"review" · Children's · concenter · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend · Tales

{illustrator} yuyi morales

30 days of pbI occasionally share an illustrator who has caught my eye. See the above “picture book list” for other illustrators highlighted on this blog. For ’30 Days of Picture Books’,“Day Six” features three books and an Illustrator’s Spotlight!

Day Thirty:  Little Night; Just in Case: A Trickster Tale & Spanish Alphabet Book; and  Nino Wrestles the World .


yuyi Illustration-from-Georgia-for-Molly
from Amy Novesky’s Georgia in Hawaii

yuyi moralesYuyi Morales is an author, artist, and puppet maker and was the host of her own Spanish-language radio program for children. Her books have won numerous awards and citations including the Americas Award, the Jane Addams Award, the Christopher Award, three Pura Belpre Medals, and three Pura Belpre Honors. She divides her time between the San Francisco area and Veracruz Mexico.

“I was born in the city of flowers, Xalapa, Mexico, where the springs came out from the sand, or so the story says. […]When I grow old I dream in becoming a professional liar. You know, those kind of people that tell stories and everybody goes, “Ahh, Ohh!” (“me”).

from an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations: “From the books I borrowed, I learned how to make handmade-paper, and baskets, and how to bind books, carve rubber stamps, and build puppets and make them walk. But mostly I learned that everything I always wanted to learn I could find it in a book.

From Marisa Montes’ Los Gatos Black on Halloween
From Marisa Montes’ Los Gatos Black on Halloween

“From books in the library, I fell in love with children’s literature and their art. I awed at the sight of illustrations and studied picture book after picture book, wondering at how illustrators could bring such a magic to their work.” read the complete interview here.

Her picture books:  Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, illus. for Kathleen Krull (HMH 2003); Just a Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (Chronicle 2003); Los Gatos Black on Halloween, Illus. for Marisa Montes (Henry Holt and Co 2006); Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (Roaring Brook 2008); My Abuelita, illus. for Tony Johnston (HMH 2009); Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased, illus. for Amy Novesky (HMH 2012); Ladder to the Moon, illus for Maya Soetoro-Ng (Candlewick 2011); Little Night (Roaring Brook 2007); Floating on Mama’s Song/Flotando En L Cancion de Mama, illus for Laura Lacamara (Katherine Tegen 2010); Sand Sister, illus. for Amanda White (Barefoot 2004); Viva Frida (Roaring Brook 2014)


“I was born in Mexico, the eldest of four children. I always drew. I copied from my family’s photographs, I drew my relatives’ faces, and I looked at myself in the mirror to draw myself again and again. I was also interested in sports. My two sisters and I developed into competitive swimmers; we traveled a lot, and trained with our team twice a day, even during winter. Some times the water was so cold that we could not curl our fingers or lift our arms to comb our hair afterwards. As I grew up, it was time to choose a career. Even though I loved to draw and create, it never occurred to me that I could become an artist. Instead I went to the University to study to be a P.E. teacher and Psychologist. Soon after I graduated, I became a swimming coach. And that is what I was doing when things came to a big change.”–Aline Pereira’s interview w/ Morales, Paper Tigers (here)

Yuyi Morales’ artwork is intriguing, but learning more about her and her story you begin to confirm that sneaking suspicion you had that there is a vibrant, playful, and warm creator behind the work you’ve been admiring.

from Tony Johnston's My Abuelita
from Tony Johnston’s My Abuelita


little night coverLittle Night by Yuyi Morales,

A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Book Press 2007

 Yuyi Morales plays with the getting-ready-for-bed story as Mother Sky tries to coax Little Night into a bathtub of stars. The sun sets, and the sky cools and darkens Mother Sky’s skirts as she bathes and dresses a child more interested in playing hide-and-seek.

Little Night hides in places wherein night would blend, with animals and hues like a little night. The color scheme moves from warm sunset reds, oranges, pinks to cooling and harder-surfaced reds to deepening into purples and blues. The evidence of brushwork is broad and sweeping, lending to the expansive quality of a tale set in the sky.

It is lovely to consider how the greatness of the sky and the night participate in each relatively small beings of the reader. Little Night appears both human child-size and large in the scale of villages, but Mother Sky is always large, but not looming on the page. The definitive thematic images are of Mother Sky’s domestic chores, seeking Little Night, and her holding Little Night on her lap. She is a comforting, caring presence. She’s also rendered quite beautiful.

little_night_vestirseaLittle Night is impish, and the whole interplay between Mother and Night is very sweet. It is also magical (shocking, I know), but the “dress crotched from clouds” is perfect, and that the “hair pins are stars,” named as they are placed in Little Night’s hair.

Little Night is probably an obvious choice for bedtime, and it is indeed one to nestle in with, but Little Night is not the only impish figure. The author isn’t putting Little Night to bed—it’s nighttime, it’s time for the child to be waking, to be bathed and dressed, fed and groomed, and given the moon as a ball with which to run out and play.

little nightOf course we all have times for sleeping and times for running wild and in sport. Little Night is for both of those times.


just in case coverJust in Case: A Trickster Tale & Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales, A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Book Press 2008

A new adventure with Señor Calavera following Just a Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (Chronicle Books 2003)

After meeting  Señor Calavera (who has his own website), I know I am going to have to find Just a Minute! His efforts to find the perfect gifts for his dear friend Grandma Beetle was perfectly encantadora.

It is almost time for the Grandma Beetle’s birthday party and Señor Calavera is nearly ready to go, tie ironed, bike maintenance… Then Señor Zelmiro appears suggesting Señor Calavera should bring a gift. He has time. Unsure of what would make Grandma Beetle most happy to receive on her special day, Señor Calavera will choose gifts of every letter of the alphabet.

As he collects gifts alphabetically— Una Acordéon: An accordion for her to dance to. Bigotes: A mustache because she has none. Cosquillas: Tickles to make her laugh—Señor Zelmiro keeps egging him on, asking him if these are the gifts Grandma Beetle will really want. They are all good gifts, but what was the most precious? [one ring to rule them all?]

before text
before text

Señor Calavera worries, and time is running close to missing the party entirely.

The skeleton on his bicycle makes it one letter past xilografia before disaster strikes. Never fear, as you might guess, Señor Calavera does make it through the alphabet to find a gift precious to everyone at the birthday party.

before text
before text

The colors are as lively as the text, and as warm as the sentiment. The details are worth lingering over, little touches here and there; e.g. the bone texture of the skull beneath a differentiated layer of paint where it is decorated. The translucence of the ghost is beautifully done, lending Señor Zelmira a solid presence, the white dots lending a silvery sparkle (like in Grandma Beetle’s hair).

via Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, by Yuyi Morales
via Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, by Yuyi Morales

I was taken with the inclusion of the book resting beneath Señor Calavera’s hat in his bedroom: Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) [by Gabriel Garcia Marquez].

I was really taken with privileging all the text by not italicizing the Spanish language words. I should do a post on code-switching. No, the only italicizing was appropriate to the exclaimed (thus emphasized) ¡Quizás! (maybe or perhaps). Looking up the word Quizás led me to a YouTube video of Andrea Bocelli and Jennifer Lopez singing “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás.” Naturally, I want to share that link here. You’re welcome.

Natalya (2013)
Natalya (2013)

I mentioned I should do a post on code-switching, but I should really get Natalya to talk about it and her brief exchange with Poet Eduardo C. Corral on just whom bilingual picture books are really for?

Ignore the impulse to consider Just in Case a foreign language acquisition tool, and employ it as you’d do any picture book: as a tool of language acquisition. Natalya (nearly 14 now) and I will still occasionally indulge an alphabet game. The level of difficulty has been amped since she was 5, of course. But I wish we’d known xilografia back when, as ‘x’ can be the most limited alphabet game letter otherwise.  I wish we’d had this book back then.


nino-wrestles-the-world coverNino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales, A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press 2013. Includes “About Lucha Libre”

nino ficha_lloronaIn the popular tradition of the “theatrical, action-packed style of professional wrestling” of Lucha Libre, Yuyi Morales pits Nino against some gnarly cultural bogey-men. Love the appearance La Llorona, how she comes on scene and is defeated. Every competitor’s bio (including pronunciations) decorate the end pages, even Las Hermanitas who prove to be Nino’s most challenging of competitors.

nino-wrestles-the-world-illustration-yuyi-moralesMorales enacts a fantastic production in colors, graphics, energy and imaginative play. An absolute must for entertainment alone. Second are the lessons in courage, play, and siblinghood.

nino hermanitas-for_chelsea2It reminds me a bit of Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show by Michael Buckley and Dan Santat (Harry N. Abrams 2012).

Start your Yuyi Morales collection, and if you have to start it somewhere, Nino Wrestles the World would be an excellent book with which to begin.

{all images belong to Yuyi Morales, check out her site here}

"review" · Children's · Illustrator · Picture book

{book} lines

30 days of pbDay Twenty-One: The Line 

by Paula Bossio 

Kids Can Press 2013 (first publ 2011)

Line, The coverA little girl stumbles onto a line … and endless possibilities for fun! With a twist and a shake of the line, it becomes a slide, a giant bubble or even a jungle vine. But what — or who — could be at the other end?—publisher’s comments

The childlike-drawn little girl in pig tails and a scribbled-red (not pink) dress finds the line on the cover and flows it through the end pages. Who has drawn the line is revealed at the end, but who is able to interact with it and manipulate it throughout is never in doubt. The power of imagination, in creating narratives in the silence is demonstrated in this magnificent wordless picture book.

line Paginas42

I appreciate both the playful and sinister moments of the book; the pencil smudged affect; the familiarity of the drawing style in engaging the young reader. Bossio art is one of excellence in design and consideration of her audience. My critical eye moves intuitively to the political, but I believe even that read is entertained. Children, no doubt, will find this a fun book for its imaginative play, but I find it delightful how many grown-ups have enjoyed it as well.

LineThe_2333_preview (dragged)small

Has this one been made into a board book yet? Regardless, add this one to the rotation for the youngest and earliest reader alike.


Paula Bossio “studied graphic design in Colombia, a beautiful country in South America. Since 2000 she has been working with several publisher houses as a freelance illustrator and as an art director in different advertising agencies (BBDO, G2, Y&R- Rapp Collins Colombia). In 2009 Paula moved to Barcelona, Spain to do a postgraduate study in Illustration for children books. Paula´s work has been recognized in several international awards, Noma Japan- Katha Chitrakala-India, A la Orilla del Viento- Mexico between others. Currently she is living in Melbourne Australia.

“I am a passionated graphic designer, an entire illustration lover. I believe in the power of the word, of stories, of great ideas. I believe in the power of a line, of colors, of shapes. I believe that those ideas that are able to hold great meanings can change thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. I believe that visual communication is able to pass through countries, languages and cultures. An image is an incredible tool to convey what we really are and have inside ourselves.”

{images belong to Paula Bossio}


"review" · author creature feature · Children's · concenter · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend

{illustrator} Felicia Hoshino

30 days of pbI occasionally share an illustrator who has caught my eye. See the above “picture book list” for other illustrators highlighted on this blog. For ’30 Days of Picture Books’,“Day Six” features three books and an Illustrator’s Spotlight!

Day Six: Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin; A Place where Sunflowers Grow; and Sora and the Cloud.



“Felicia Hoshino was born in San Francisco, California where she continues to live with her family. As a student at CCSF, she enrolled in as many art classes as she could find, from figure drawing and ceramics to illustration and graphic design. Upon deciding to make art her career, she continued her education at California College of the Arts, where she earned a BFA in Illustration. Felicia’s prize-winning illustrations can now be seen in children’s magazines CricketSpider and Ladybug and in children’s books such as Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin, the Jane Addams Peace Award winning A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, and My Dog Teny, all accepted into the Society of Illustrator’s The Original Art exhibitions.”* She has illustrated her first book cover for readers with Susan Austin’s The Bamboo Garden (Song Tree Books 2012).

Hoshino Portrait
Photo credit by Hiromi Otsubo Photography

“In addition to creating mixed-media images for children’s books and magazines, she enjoys illustrating children’s portraiture, cooking with her husband and decorating the walls at home with art created by her son and daughter.”*

From the 2008 interview w/ Paper Tigers:

What does your heritage mean to you and what role does it play in your work as an illustrator?

Being a fourth generation Japanese American, I grew up quite “Americanized,” with none of the language and very few Japanese customs – which perhaps is natural, being that my family has been so far removed from Japan.

“However, as an adult I’ve been drawn towards Japanese culture more and more, as if to fill a small void. My husband was born and raised in Japan, so together we hope to bring up our children with the best of both worlds. Living in America and especially the Bay Area, I feel we have the luxury of picking and choosing customs that mean the most to us and of creating new ones along the way.”

In a video linked to the Sora and the Cloud review as well as the review itself, you’ll see Hoshino talking about her desire to create a picture book that will share Japanese culture with Japanese families as well as non-Japanese families. Hoshino, with Michelle Lord, draws from the cultures of Cambodian Dance and a French Sculptor in Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin. In a Book Talk about Little Sap w/ Lee & Low, Hoshino says that she hopes “children of all ages will be inspired to seek out the arts by visiting local museums, seeing live performances, or even better, traveling the world and immersing themselves in different cultures.”

hoshino Tsukimi Girl
Tsukimi Girl for a 2011 Calendar Project: Tsukimi Girl is inspired by the Japanese Moon Festival, Tsukimi celebrated in the month of September when families enjoy eating sweets such as dango rice cakes while viewing the full moon.

Hoshino’s desire to explore and represent culture in historical, contemporary or fantastical ways is appealing–that she is able to translate story into such marvelous images is enviable. There is a texture to her work that warms and deepens, it reminds me of James Ransome or Kadir Nelson, Emily Winfield Martin, Jen Corace or Freya Blackwood, with the sensibilities of Sean Qualls or Shaun Tan. I could go on, and the names that are surfacing for me are not because Hoshino’s work is by any means derivative. The loveliness of her aesthetic brings to mind the best of other such beloved illustrators. I would love to see not only more of her illustrative work, but to see it on your shelves with aforementioned artists.

hoshino surprise moon
from the book Surprise Moon written by Caroline Hatton

“Most illustrations are created using some kind of combination of pen & ink, water color, acrylic and collaged tissue paper on cold press watercolor paper.”* I love her color palettes, as you’ll no doubt hear again and again in the following reviews.

Felicia Hoshino’s website: here. *a lot of the biographical information will look familiar.


little sap coverLittle Sap and Monsieur Rodin by Michelle Lord, Illus. Felicia Hoshino (Lee & Low, 2006). Grades 1-5.

Before I say much more I am just going to recommend that instead of buying that umpteenth ballet book for your darling, purchase Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin. Two, this is not just a book for girls.

Okay, lets begin.

“It’s 1906 and the court dancers in the Cambodian royal palace are abuzz with news of a trip to France for the Colonial Exhibition. Little Sap, a poor country girl who joined the dance troupe to give her family a better life, is apprehensive about traveling to a faraway land.
With grace and imagination, this touching story relives the historical encounter between Rodin and Little Sap, weaving together the hopes and aspirations of a young girl and the beauty of artistic expression.—publisher’s comments.

little sap page

Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin is the first picture book for both Michelle Lord and Felicia Hoshino and the partnership proves successful. While rich in description, Hoshino renders what will be for many, not only a foreign place, but a never-before-seen form of dance.

little sapThe story introduces us to Sap at the auditions for the Royal Palace’s dance troupe. Having  read the “foreword,” we have a cursory understanding of Cambodian history leading up to when “one little dancer’s story begins behind the walls of the Royal Palace in the early 1900s.” We’ve no idea at this point that there was a Little Sap, that comes with the educational item after the close. Meanwhile, we quickly come to understand that Sap didn’t arrive in a SUV of one size or another for dance class, nor is she dreaming of achieving a tutu to sport about town—a spot in the troupe “would raise the family’s status in their village.”


Another concern would arrive after she begins to advance in her disciplines, they’ve been invited to an exhibition in France! It is in France where Sap and two other dancers would be culled from the troupe to meet Auguste Rodin. It has been a hushed building of strength, confidence, and ownership of her art. The story progresses through the limitations of notice, Sap transcending each, finding notice on a village, then national, and now global scale. The humble child, chosen for her strength ascends with courage and not a little determination and discipline. If you do not know of Rodin’s own history, Lord provides a poetry in Little Sap’s meeting with the famous artist. Rodin, too, had to overcome a meager childhood.

Photograph of his work on Danseuse Cambodgienne.

Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin is an inspiring picture book, that presents a great deal of wonder, beauty and grace. Hoshino’s work is beautiful, delving into the deep warm hues for Little Sap, as well as gilding edges with metallic glow. Nothing is left too exotic so as to recognize a frightened and determined little girl who is selfless in her pursuit of her art and a better future for her own.

Of note: “A portion of the royalties from this book will be donated to Cambodian art and education.”


hoshino sunflowers coverA Place where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai, illus. Felicia Hoshino; Japanese Translation by Marc Akio Lee (Children’s Book Press, 2006).

Mari wonders if anything can bloom at Topaz, where her family is interned along with thousands of other Japanese Americans during World War II. The summer is blazingly hot, Mari’s art class has begun. But it’s hard to think of anything to draw in a place where nothing beautiful grows. Somehow, glimmers of hope begin to surface under the harsh sun—in the eyes of a kindly art teacher, in the tender words of Mari’s parents, and in the smile of a new friend. […] Amy Lee-Tai’s sensitive prose and Felicia Hoshino’s stunning mixed-media images show that hope can survive even the harshest injustice.—Jacket copy

Amy Lee-Tai introduces her inspiration for this picture book: her family and the events of 1942: “The United States government sent 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans to live in internment camps. […] My mother’s family was given tend days to leave their home. They were allowed to bring with them only what they could carry. […] Life in the camps was full of hardships and injustice, yet the internees did their best to maintain their human dignity. My grandparents turned to what they knew and loved best: art.”

hoshino sunflower 3The story itself quietly introduces the day-to-day experiences of the internment camp—all of it stained under the heat of the sun: the dust storms, the mess hall, the barracks, the single room accommodations for a family, the latrine, the military presence.  I should rearrange the listed examples, because the juxtaposition of the image of home and the image of the camp cannot be ignored. Pages 6-7, the barracks are a diminutive line dividing English and Japanese text on page 6; page 7 is the memory of the yard back home in California, “Her parents, who were artists, would paint while Mari and her older brother Kenji played alongside  them in their flower-filled backyard” (6). It is awash with colors. Turn the page to 8-9, and the colors are reduced to tufts of green locating small trees in planters and variously tinted clothing.  Mari and her Papa are tiny figures walking along the rows of barracks. “They passed beneath watchtowers where military police pointed guns at anyone they feared might escape. Mari clutched Papa’s hand.” Dominating the scene is bottom left (p8) is the soldier in the watchtower holding a rifle. You can see two more towers as you follow barbed wire fences toward a naked yellow orb.

hoshino sunflowershoshino sunflowers 2“We know things are tough her, but you barely talk or laugh anymore” (9). Papa observes this, but Mari isn’t ready to talk about it.

Throughout, A Place where Sunflowers Grow maintains a hopeful tone. Lee-Tai translates “the internees did their best to maintain their human dignity” well. She and Hoshino render the “courage and grace” Lee-Tai praises in her book “dedication.” Mari tries to find joy despite the harsh circumstances. And the sunflowers do in fact grow—a true story Lee-Tai draws from her mother’s experience. Mari finds possibility and discovers the means to thrive through family, friendship, and art in an otherwise unforgiving landscape.

Hisako Hibi
Hisako Hibi
hoshino sunflower Hisako Hibi,
Hoshino’s A Place where Sunflowers Grow

While Lee-Tai draws inspiration from her mother’s stories, Felicia Hoshino bases “some compositions on artwork by Hisako Hibi, grandmother of author and a prominent Japanese American painter.” It is worth looking up Hibi’s work and finding the connections with A Place where Sunflowers Grow.


sora and the cloudSora and the Cloud  by Felicia Hoshino; Japanese translation: Akiko Hisa (Immedium, Inc., 2011).

Sora_Cover_art1-710x561A noted children’s artist, Hoshino authors her first picture book, inspired by her own experiences as a mother. The growing boy Sora enjoys the ultimate daydream—to soar like a cloud!

Up in a tree a friendly cloud awaits! Hopping aboard, Sora and the Cloud share a breathtaking adventure in the sky. […] The wonderful flight of fancy is created in Hoshino’s evocative style of mixed media. Plus the bilingual Japanese translation highlights the empowering themes of self-discover and cultural exchange.—publisher’s comments.

Not only is the book include line translations, Sora and the Cloud a “Glossary,” four clips of images throughout the book  with added explication under “Japanese Cultural Inspirations” and the translations for the “Japanese Short Expressions” found throughout. The information isn’t extensive: it fits on a single page, but it is awesome. Felicia Hoshino goes further than most bilingual picture books, and the reasons are explained in her “Note to Readers:”

“I wanted Sora and the Cloud to be bilingual, simply so that both my husband and I could enjoy reading it to our children in each of our native languages; for myself in English and for my husband in Japanese. I also wanted to include the following notes to introduce English readers, (myself included) to Japanese expressions and cultural elements that were inspirational to the storyline and illustrations.”

I assumed after just flipping through the pages that the pretty, soft color-palette would make for a quiet, fairly subdued read. It didn’t scream adventure, but more a sleepy daydream. It is daydream-y, but Sora and the Cloud is not sleepy.

sora-and-the-cloud3sora-and-the-cloud4As he grows, so, too, does Sora’s awareness of the world. He moves from a crawl to a climb, growing in stature as he moves across the pages until he pauses to consider a tree. He climbs even higher, but where can he go now? Cue the friendly cloud who carries the daring to new heights.

Sora_p18-19_art-710x287At such a height as to make creatures below look like insects, the creatures below become insects instead of humans in activity. The construction workers not only look like they use building blocks to construct skyscrapers, they literally are. And these aren’t the only toys to appear in the scene. (Love the cloud making faces in the reflective window in this sequence. And, huh, is that a female construction worker?!) “From way up in the sky, rides spin and whirl in a kaleidoscope of motion!” and if your child has yet to experience a kaleidoscope, have one on hand, and remark upon just how successful Hoshino’s effect.


The transition into waking, the continuance, yet more obvious surreality of the adventure begins to takes shape as Sora drifts back to earth. But it hasn’t all been a dream—whew! But he is ready to land to tell of his adventures to his little sister. As the story closes, the sister looks up to the cloud smiling down at her, “(konnichiwa) hello!”

As Sora explores the world around him, he encourages a new perspective and an expansion of our imaginations. It is a small picture book that invites the imagination of the reader/listener with its own. Multi-lingual or monoglot, this is one to seek out and read to the young adventurer-dreamer in your life—which should be every young person you know.

a video of Felicia Hoshino talking about Sora and the Cloud via Crosswater Media

"review" · comics/graphic novels · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · wondermous

{comics} good literature

janefoxmecoverJane, the Fox & Me

by Fanny Britt, and artist Isabelle Arsenault

translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Groundwood Books, 2013.

orig. Jane, le renard & moi (Les Éditions de La Pastèque, 2012)

Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies — Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane’s tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to allow her to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.–publisher’s comments.

Jane, the Fox & Me is simply stunning. I spent a long quiet moment after closing the book and muttering a ‘damn.’ Naturally, I think we should all now experience this graphic novel.

janefox1Isabelle Arsenault illustrates Hélène’s life in pencil; black and white overlay a depressing tonal grey. Hélène has not only been isolated but she is being brutally tormented. The insults written on walls, like her weighing 216, increase in her mind to 316 and more as the story progresses. However, contrary to what she tells her mother near the end, that she exaggerates, is dramatic, the story disallows us to believe all of what Hélène is confronted with is a figment of her imagination.

Her obesity is imagined. Arsenault does not depict even a mildly overweight girl. A problem that accompanies what seems real versus imagined is trying to negotiate what is normal–and how to negotiate conflict. It is horribly tense, anticipating Hélène’s school trip away for a couple of days, but there is the lovely reference to Jane Eyre just then…and the opportunity to see other students implement Hélène’s strategy for dealing with inevitable awkward moments like tent assignments.


The inclusions of Jane Eyre are beautifully done, in both the narrative Fanny Britt creates and the illustrations by Arsenault. Like Hélène, I, too, found myself preferring to linger in Brontë’s world where the aesthetic allows for lush color-work (gouache, watercolor), brushwork and a shift in a gentler drawing style. The foliage, vibrant with life, does begin to seep into Hélène’s world, though yet to find color. As with the book she is reading, she hides here in the foliage, too, aggrieved. Hélène figures that if Jane can overcome the tribulations of her youth to “grow up to be clever, slender and wise anyway” (16), surely she can as well. Even once she is grown, Jane has difficulties and Hélène wisely observes that “everyone needs a strategy, even Jane Eyre” (53). It is a subtle realization of the book that the reader needn’t be left imagining that Hélène will eventually become ‘clever, slender, and wise’ herself. She begins to demonstrate these future moments here and there as the book makes its way.

JaneFoxMe5“Its eyes are so kind I just about burst./That same look in another human’s eyes, and my soul would be theirs for sure.” note, how much this close up of Hélène looks like the young Jane.


For all the angst of shifting relationships with others and self, there are amusements to be found. Britt and Arsenault shift from of harsher lights into the lyrical; tempering, too, the lyrical with the serious study of their Hélène, her Jane, and her fox.  The fox…wow–the ways in which we internalize the metaphor, and not just other people’s ways of seeing us! Jane, the Fox & Me has some amazing narrative texture. Note how Britt incorporates the quotes of what was written on the walls into the sentence of the speaker. When we often label a narrator such as Hélène unreliable, rarely do we question what causes her to be so. Britt forces the question of what creates the narrative presented to us in Hélène’s voice. What words and ideas begin to compete and crowd-out (both literally in the visual text and figuratively) the negative commentary at the beginning?


Literati’s will appreciate Hélène’s refuge in books, finding their empathic nature well-depicted in Jane, the Fox & Me. It is nice how the mother looks to music. Neither is the conversation on clothing frivolous; that effort to find expression/identity.

Jane, the Fox & Me is neither heavy in text nor incomprehensible in its visual sequences. I cannot attest for the text in its original language, but the translations create a successful telling of Hélène’s story. As the seasons change and Hélène grows (again both literally and figuratively), things get better for our protagonist, and the reader perceives new lessons on the horizon for our growing-up girl. Though Jane Eyre is finished by the reader, Jane’s return to Mr. Rochester have yet the opportunity to make sense to the young Hélène.


Britt and Arsenault achieve so much in 101 pages. Jane, the Fox & Me is a richly textured and engrossing story that tells all too familiar stories of the relationships so many of us find in the world, our home, our selves…and our books. I only touched on a few things. I restrained from going on about the urban and nature, of fantasy and reality…or fox lore. It is something to experience for yourself.

Jane, the Fox & Me is absolutely beautiful… and to be gifted simply. Please, do not assault a young reader with “the edification of this read” or in the company of a lesson plan on bullying or eating disorders or alienation or poverty, etc.  Jane, the Fox & Me is why artful storytelling matters. It can stand on its own and in conversations. If anything, pair it with a meaningful piece of classic literature or a trip to a nature preserve…


recommendations: if not already noted: girls, boys, grade-school upwards. for those who love the color orange. it’s great to be read by each if not together, though probably not too close to bathing-suit purchases. there are strategies you know.

of note: we’ll be visiting Arsenault’s work again during picture book month–which I think will happen more Summer than Fall.

{images belong to Isabelle Arsenault}


Brain Pickings‘ Maria Popova’s excellent review which includes more pictures (if you don’t mind being a bit spoiled) and this gorgeous summation: “Jane, the Fox & Me is an absolute treasure that blends the realities of children’s capacity to be cruel, the possibilities of transcending our own psychological traps, and literature’s power to nourish, comfort, and transform.”


"review" · Children's · concenter · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend

an ezra jack keats day

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Twenty-Five: Keats’s Neighborhood: An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury

w/ an Introduction by Anita Silvey

Viking, 2002.


“This beautiful collection brings together nine of [Jack Ezra Keats’s] best-loved stories, including the 1963 Caldecott Medal-winning book The Snowy Day and Caldecott Honor book Goggles!, plus Whistle for Willie,Peter’s ChairApt. 3, and others. Also included is artwork from an unfinished picture book, The Giant Turnip, published here for the very first time. An introduction by celebrated critic of children’s literature Anita Silvey outlines Keats’s career and inimitable contributions. In addition, four of the most important writers and illustrators working in the field today [Jerry Pinkney, Simms Taback, Reynold Ruffins, & Eric Carle] share their thoughts on Keats and the legacy he left behind. An afterword describes his incredible life, from his childhood in Brooklyn to children’s book legend.” -publisher’s comments

I was thinking I should take a day to post at least one of Ezra Jack Keats’ picture books. Snow usually brings him to mind. Imagine my delight when I found this treasury. walk with me.

“Introduction” by Anita Silvey:

EJKeats“As someone who had experienced both poverty and anti-Semitism, Ezara Jack Keats found himself sympathetic to city children from different races and backgrounds who had suffered as he had. These children mattered to him. But in the early 1960s those children’s faces, and those experiences, simply did not appear in the books that were published.” (7)

Silvey’s opening paragraph introduces (of course) what she wants remembered of Keats. He was both determined and deliberate in his craft to see real life depicted in the picture book: for him this meant urban and multi-cultural landscapes: “In his books […] universal experiences are played out in a city environment, with graffiti and peeling paint, dark corners and alleys, a landscape made beautiful by his own vision” (9).

He had vital support, but he also found himself under fire–even to the point of ‘devastation’ and quitting: “At the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s, he faced the ire of the Council for Interracial Books for Children. They claimed that as a white man Keats had no right to fashion books about black characters; in doing so he was stealing money from legitimate African-American creators” (10). He was eventually persuaded to come back.

“The very success of The Snowy Day opened the door for other creative individuals. those publishing books, working with children, and writing books realized that an audience existed that eagerly sought their own faces and lives reflected in their books. […]By bringing multicultural publishing to the forefront of our consciousness, Keats has influenced children’s books for four decades” (11).


keats snowy day page

The Snowy Day (1962). Snowy days are magical and Peter’s day captures this from the footsteps in snow, building snowmen and angels, rethinking snowball fights with the bigger kids. I know that the cover, that Peter in his red snow-suit is the iconic image, but the image-right is the one that always lingered with me. This is where the dreaming begins, with this little boy in his bed looking out of the window. The facing page, we see him poised at a gateway.

I love the humor and delight in the story. and the excitement that comes with the next morning’s snow. What will Peter and his friend do on this snowy day. There is as much possibility as there is snow in that parting shot as they move off into the horizon.


“A Word from Jerry Pinkney” (27) on Keats: “Using his skill as a painter and his compassion as a humanist, he enthralled, entertained, and educated children as well as adults. […] He enlarged the world of children’s literature, by instilling his characters with energy and by filling each page with exquisite design and dazzling color.”


keats whistleWhistle for Willie  (1964) has Peter wishing he could whistle, it would make for a really nice trick. While we have a fairly straightforward narrative of a boy wanting and trying to whistle, there is this highly imaginative boy who finds play where he stands, spins, or hops. He tried to whistle, couldn’t so he turns round and round; he tries to whistle so instead… He’s going to whistle eventually, he is quite determined on this point, but in the meantime he has colored chalks in his pocket and cracks in the pavement to tread. He wants to whistle for Willie, it is a part of play, a part of growing up (e.g. dad’s hat), but in the meanwhile, he is also content with being a child. If he whistles, that would be awesome, if not…he’s got things to do. You read enough children’s picture books and you begin to realize how wonderfully odd this beautifully rendered little story is.


keats-he3-lettertoamyA Letter to Amy (1968) finds Peter inviting a girl to his birthday party–the only invitee to get an invitation in writing, and the only invitee who is a girl. Peter is nervous, and the rain outside and the wind that ups and carries the letter out of his hands suits his situation perfectly. He worries whether Amy will come and anticipates some teasing by the boys, but when the story closes with Peter blowing out the candles after making his own wish, you know he’ll be alright, he’s come into his own in this moment.


keats peters chair bPeter’s Chair (1967) is a story wherein Peter’s chair is awaiting the fate off all of Peter’s other baby-hood furniture: pink paint. First his cradle, then his high-chair! The new baby Susie is causing some new changes around the house, “You’ll have to play more quietly. Remember, we have  a new baby in the house.” The parents are not insensitive to Peter, however, gently calling him inside when he’s run away to the front walk. And neither is Peter willing to change–too much. But he is growing up: he’s outgrown the chair, and he’s come ’round to helping his father paint it pink. The transition into being the big brother and yet allowing himself the childhood antics is quiet. Gifting his character with such confidence in action/personality sets Keats apart.


“A Word from Simms Taback” (59), on how witnessing Keats work inspired his approach: “I realized that I, too, could be more playful, and so I introduced collage elements to my work. […] I wasn’t thinking only of his technique, which is instantly recognizable, but also of how straightforward, warm, and child-friendly his pictures are.


keats goggles

Goggles (1969) offers us a glimpse of an afternoon. The younger boys outwit the bigger in this adventure with Peter and his friend Archie. Of course, Willie is there to take part when the big boys want to take the goggles Peter finds from him. I may spoil this for those unfamiliar with this story, but I love that moment when Archie laughingly says, “We sure fooled’em, didn’t we?” and you think: yes, Archie, you sure fooled us. He starts out not saying anything, seeming small and meek, and we worry. But turns out he is clever and brave and just as capable as the bigger, bold-red-shirt wearing Peter who stands up to the boys. In a story all about seeing and misdirection, we understand that we should mind what we think we know, about ourselves and others.


keats jennies hatJennie’s Hat (1966) features Jennie and her disappointment in the hat her Aunt sends her–“It’s such a plain hat!” Using some bird friends and collage-work, Keats fashions a more delightful hat for his protagonist. The story moves from admiring others’ hats and nature’s wonders to combining the two in a creative act that becomes Jennie’s Hat. Jennie didn’t understand that the plain hat was an opportunity to design something unique to her.


keats 08_hi_cat_420x216Hi, Cat! (1970) makes Archie its star, a funny actor who turns an ice cream mustache into a gran’pa figure, a paper bag into a Mister Big Face, and a fence into a Tallest Dog on a Walk show. But animals aren’t always cooperative, and the new cat in the neighborhood is especially troublesome. All Archie had said was “Hi, cat!” and hilarity, I mean, trouble ensues. Maybe the cat isn’t so bad to have around after all…he certainly makes for improvisational action and opportunity for Archie. It’s delightful to think he might stick around (after that last scene).


“A Word from Reynold Ruffins” (89) on Keats: “He could spend days considering character, color, and composition. I’ve watched him ponder one or another color of paper he had hand dipped, trying to choose between them. All such decisions were painstakingly arrived at. Yet from this effort, he panned a golden classic–The Snowy Day. […] In the sixties Ezra believed there should be children’s books characters other than Dick and Jane, their Granny, and her damn blue birds. And he did something about it.”


keats-k14-apt3Apt. 3 (1971). Sam, with little Ben in tow, take us on a tour of their apartment building as they sort through the sounds and smells to find which apartment was responsible for the harmonica music. They are surprised by what they find–at first frightened and then delighted. The landscape itself will hold the same for children reading/listening to this from homes unfamiliar with apartment living–there will likely be fear at first, but they should find what Sam and Ben do: the magic in the human experience: the different sounds and colors and secrets and stories. They become aware of the importance of paying attention, investigating, and exploring the world with others–and dare I say, through art? Keats brushwork does translate into harmonica.


“A Word from Eric Carle” (101) “would say Ezra’s sparkling eyes were the first impression I had of this gentle and kind man. […] I remember Ezra as having a keen eye for beautiful women! But most of all, I remember his generous spirit. He was an experienced professional who reached out to me, a greenhorn at the threshold of entering the world of picture book making.” –bless him for that!


keats louieLouie’s Search (1980). You know those stories where the protagonist goes searching for something and who knows what they end up finding? Treasure falls out of the back of the truck and leads to a pretty hairy situation. But than said hairy situation turns into something remarkable once the enormous shadows settle into a human person. This story seems bizarre to me, one that I do not think would work in any other landscape but the one in which it is placed. I like the way it questions the romance other picture books spin with regards to the subject matter it tackles.


keats - pet showPet Show! (1972) You’ll get a blue ribbon if you’ll just show up for the pet show with your pet, which makes it tricky when Archie’s cat fails to make an appearance–anywhere. Archie has to get creative. He brings Al. But the cat does finally arrive and in the unexpected company of an old woman. In a story about a diverse but close community and the personality of it and the individual, little wonder that uncomplicated ending about cats and ribbons and who and what belongs to whom.


keats _ezra jackThe collection closes with “About the Author” who was born Jacob Ezra Katz on March 11, 1916. I will leave it for you to read, only to conclude as it does: “Keats gave the world more than one hundred books featuring children from every race and ethnicity. Keats never forgot the faces and experiences of his childhood, and in his stories and art he made his neighborhood known and loved throughout the world.”

"review" · Children's · concenter · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend · wondermous

things I love about this picture book

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Seventeen: All the Things I Love About You

by LeUyen Pham

Balzer + Bray, 2010.

all the things i love about you coverAll the Things I Love About You reads like love letter from a mother to her young child, in which she tells him all the ways she loves him. LeUyen Pham dedicates the book especially: “For all those many mamas who love their little boys, this book is just for you.”

My eyes may have welled up at least twice; which is an achievement easily attributed to the picture book because I had just finished an assigned reading and discussion on “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale” beforehand. I was so moved by All the Things I Love About You, that I may have let an expletive slip; which is how I tend to punctuate that simultaneity of awe and incredible envy. Fortunately, the daughter was downstairs being 13, probably listening to someone else’s less holy expletive slip.

All the Things I Love About You is beautiful. It isn’t precious and it won’t make the teeth ache. It will be heart-warming and deep-sighing, because LeUyen Pham does not hit one false note. Her sense of humor and impeccable timing helps. She’ll places especially funny moments among the affectionate smiles and those sentiments that catch your heart in your throat. There is this wonderful build-up of emotion using a compound sentence spread across three double-page spreads at the end. Your heart and lungs fill up and then you find there is room for just one more breathe. However, said breathe will not be with you long, because Pham leaves us with the most agreeable ending: the truth these kinds of love letters want to be sure their child understands.

There are a lot of familiar childhood activities, and yet you needn’t identify specifically with each and every thing the mother loves about her child in the book. For instance, N never “skip[ped] the letter “Y” in the alphabet because “Z” [was] so much fun to say.” But it does find correlations. Actually, that is the only part I couldn’t place Natalya’s round-cheeked visage. Natalya was the cutest little bug in her fuzzy footy-pajamas!

The colors, textures, lines, energy, movement, expression (face/body)–I tend to go on about how much I appreciate Pham’s skill as an illustrator. I love her work and I do not think it bias to suggest that her work is highly accessible (read: appealing) to everyone. Her use of the white page focuses attention on legible illustrations and directs their sequence and scale. It does the same for the text. Not only will the adult reader see recognize the mother and child (and father) on the page, but so with the little one(s) snuggling close–if you’ve caught them into stillness (there is a lot of running and chasing in the book, too).

After I finished the book and decided on love not hate (after my moment of envy). I had this immediate and overwhelming urge to buy out Powell’s supply (all 16 copies) and distribute this  book to each parent of a young child that I know (or don’t) until I run out. At $15.00 each, I will be limited in purchases for family (blood relative or no); children whom I will no doubt be reminded that they are all in (at least) grade school now. Hmmm, I may need to get Logan’s new address, Callum isn’t in college yet, is he?

{browse inside of book here}

Mary Harris Russell, briefly reviewing this book for the Chicago Tribune (in 2010) writes,

Many “I-love-you” books emphasize a cute and quiet newborn bundle, snuggled up close. LeUyen Pham shows early on that quietly cute isn’t on the list. “I love the way your hair looks in the morning,” the narrator says, and the picture shows a jaunty boy with spiky hair. This little boy is in action, wrestling out of clothes, holding hands or running off. The pages remind us that the story isn’t just what the boy does; it’s how his mother experiences him. […]The child grows – literally speeding across the pages – but so does his mother’s love.

Children's · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend · short

{illustrator} Leigh Hodgkinson

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aI occasionally share an illustrator who has caught my eye. See the above “book list,” bottom of the page for other illustrators highlighted on this blog. For ’30 Days of Picture Books’ which is to celebrate Picture Book Month, “Day Sixteen” features two books and an Illustrator’s Spotlight!

Day Sixteen: Limelight Larry AND Boris and the Wrong Shadow

When I did the ’31 Days of Picture Books’ last year and happened across Leigh Hodgkinson’s picture book Goldilocks and Just One Bear  for ‘Day 24,’ I knew I wanted to find more of her work and possibly find out a bit more about her. So I did. You’re welcome. 

leigh goldilocks and one bear image

I’d mentioned on ‘Day 24’ that “there is a Charlie & Lola*-esque quality to Goldilocks and Just One Bear: the easy way the message comes across as the aside it sort of is; the vibrant combination of colors; mixed-media; and the charming and clever British way of phrasing things is about where the similarities go.” So imagine the pleasant surprise when I find out that Leigh Hodgkinson “worked as art director on the BAFTA-award winning animated series, Charlie and Lola.” I learned a few other things from Nosy Crow’s “author” page:

Leigh Hodgkinson“Leigh is an award-winning animator. […] She is also an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, who is absolutely passionate about writing, making things up and daydreaming. Among her many brilliant picture books is Don’t Dip Your Chips in Your Drink, Kate, written by Caryl Hart, which won Highly Commended in the 2010 Sheffield Children’s Book Award, Picture Book Category.

“Leigh lives and works in Sussex with her husband and two young children.”

While Hodgkinson originally when to school in Hull for Illustration, she was exposed to the tantalizing notion of animation, “Animation seemed to encapsulate everything that I loved… design, character, narrative (which are all apparent in picture books) but as well as that you had sound, music and movement which are all very powerful things” (Cupcakes). Even so, the animation industry had its creative constraints.

“Writer & illustrator of jaunty children’s books with past life of animation and unmummishness.”–her twitter.

Working in animation in art direction and creating short films* did not stop her from producing picture books.  I find it impressive that whether she was in school, industry, then having two young children about, she finds space for her creative energy and produces great art that is hers. Besides writing and illustrating, she maintains a shop.


“Leigh Hodgkinson is a children’s writer and illustrator. She has created oodles of picture books. She also makes printed snippysew kits, laser cut brooches, prints and other lovely things under her wonkybutton label. She has a shed and is not afraid to sit in it” (website).

leigh wonkyb050

Hodgkinson’s work has a sweetness and hilarity. She tells Books for Keeps,”I like my books to have a loose, idiosyncratic feel.” She succeeds. Her work is hardly static, the lack of finish makes room for a liveliness and movement–her use of texture doesn’t hurt either.

“I like using textures- whether it is a crayon scribble, layers of tissue paper or collage patterns.  I like things to look home made and tactile as I think as human beings we respond to things that we can relate to. I feel very unemotional about shiny perfect computer images, I much prefer something that has fingerprints or smudgy little mistakes in it. To me this feels more real and has more integrity.” (Cupcakes for Clara interview)

You can read more about her and her artistic approach here: Cupcakes for Clara interview, June 2012.

*Beakus director’s page for Leigh Hodgkinson includes videos of her shorts. I recommend watching “The Wrong Trainers.” Following images from award-winning “Flighty” (2008) and “Moo(n)” (2004).

leigh flighty-032

leigh moon_02**************************************************

boris cover

Boris and the Wrong Shadow by Leigh Hodgkinson; Tiger Tales (US), 2009. originally: Orchard Books (UK), 2008. Sequel to: Boris and the Snoozebox (Tiger Tales, 2008)

Boris wakes up from his catnap to find he has the Wrong Shadow–one belonging to a very small mouse! Boris decides not to let the shadow spoil his afternoon, but it’s difficult when the other cats snicker at him. Even beaky birds ignore him. Boris begins to wonder if he actually is a mouse after all? No, Boris is definitely 100% cat. (Fact.)

When he spies his shadow, skipping past without a care in the world, he follows it. Can Boris find out who is behind the switch-swap and get his own shadow back? (jacket copy)

Layout 1

There is a really nice progression to Boris’s negotiation of the world when wearing the wrong shadow. Following the snickering and undesirable invisibility, he starts to imagine having not his own shadow back, but a bigger shadow, “something with a little more WOW!” By the time hears why Vernon was tempted to take Boris’s restless shadow for a walk, when he says he understands, we know he is sincere. He knows what it feels like to be made small and ignored. He knows how  tempting it can be to try on someone’s shadow for a while. What they learn together is just how silly it is to be anyone but themselves-completely. Their own shadow is less cumbersome, more suitable to their desired lifestyle, and just true to who they are.

boris shadow

The story maintains a current of silliness, of buoying humor. Both the text and illustrations are playful. The colors are bright, textures and collage-work visually exciting, the story ever intent on refocusing the more burdensome problems of self-identification toward dwelling on the aspects that are more meaningful and pleasurable.


larry coverLimelight Larry by Leigh Hodgkinson; Tiger Tales (US) 2011; originally Orchard (UK) 2010

This book is FANTASTIC because it is all about Limelight Larry. In fact, it is SO fantastic that Larry doesn’t think there is any room on the pages for anyone but him! But after Larry kicks everyone out, he wonders what IS the point of showing off all by yourself? It certainly isn’t much fun. (back cover)

LimelightLarry_01Animals and their opinions on books and storytelling begin appearing, much to Larry’s surprise and dismay–isn’t this book supposed to be about him?! What are they doing there? They need to leave. Pages are becoming cramped with other characters and activities, “The page is completely cluttered, and Larry’s lovely feathers are starting to get all crimpled and crumpled.” Worse, he is being forced to compete. What to do but reassert his presence?

larry_04‘Course, where does that leave him? Alone. Limelight Larry is a funny (and really pretty) little story about wanting to show-off and be the center of attention, and still have friends. If you are tempted to use this to curb your little performer’s limelight-loving behavior, seek elsewhere. But it will function as a good reminder that sharing your book isn’t the worst idea. They just might add something one could come to appreciate. And as Hodgkinson mentions below, flawed is still lovable.

“Larry is kind of my secret favourite. I love the fact that he is a bit grumpy and uppity and not fluffy and cute like most main characters in picture books. I love the fact that he can be flawed but still lovable – just like us real people.” –Leigh Hodgkinson (Cupcake interview)

{images belong to Leigh Hodgkinson}