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

a Southern noodlehead

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Five: Epossumondas

Written by Coleen Salley, Illustrations by Janet Stevens

Harcourt, 2002.


Renowned storyteller Coleen Salley and Caldecott Honor illustrator Janet Stevens team up for this outrageous twist on the Southern story of the noodlehead who takes everything way too literally. (Or is that Epossumondas just pulling his mama’s leg?)–publisher’s comments

I’m not sure it is possible to read this one without a Southern drawl or an occasional shake of the head; which, by the way, is not a bad thing at. all.

The tone of the story is set by the title page. Epossumondas, our opossum protagonist, is larger than life and full-color/opaque on a neutral-tone/translucent background. And he is wearing a pinned cloth diaper. Honestly, I’m not sure what Auntie was thinking giving this “sweet little patootie” that slice of cake.

Mama advises Epossumondas on how he should have carried the cake, advice he mistakenly believes applies to the transportation of freshly churned butter (everyone knows that goes straight into the stomach, bread optional). It is much to our delight that by the time Auntie gives him a puppy and then the bread to take home to Mama, the reader/listener knows what is going to happen. For the finale: the pies are that quick intake of breath that anticipates Epossumondas. Southern storytelling traditions involve that well-timed punch-line. Epossumondas translates nicely onto the page.

epossumondas walking-the-bread

Basing the story on traditional folktales passed around through an oral tradition and subject to shifting details, the line work reiterates the sketched, malleable quality of such a tale. The smooth color and realism of the women, in particular, lend it possibility. As author Coleen Salley writes in the “Storyteller’s Note,” “The plot [of a noodlehead story] may be highly improbable, but not impossible–it could happen.” There is something there that rings true, and not in any passing familiarity with Amelia Bedelia‘s silly literalness. It’s in wondering just who the noodlehead is in this story, and who the very clever devil (in diapers) is…


I’m guessing anyone with a passing love for Southern storytelling will find Epossumondas just too funny (and by “too funny,” I mean just right). And there are more Epossumondas books!

The late Ms. Salley is quoted as saying, “I don’t want children to read just to perfect their reading. I want them to love books for the joy of it.” Epossumondas works toward fostering that love of books via the pleasure of a well-spun story; a story sweetened with that gentle and silly humor the “Note” so highly regards in tales like Epossumondas.


Thanks for recommending this one Sharie!

{images belong to Janet Stevens}

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

I imagine you’ll like this one

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Two:  Imagine Harry written by Kate Klise,

illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

Harcourt (bk site), 2007. hardcover.

Imagine-Harry-Klise-Kate-9780152057046Not everyone can see Little Rabbit’s very best friend, Harry. But that’s okay with Little Rabbit. He and Harry are too busy rolling down hills, climbing trees, and avoiding baths to mind very much. Imagine a best friend who knows exactly when you need him. Imagine Harry.–publisher’s comment

Imagine Harry has a timeless quality about it. I blame the warm colors and the sweet realism of the characters. Okay, yes, the characters are animals, but you(‘ll) know what I mean. Little Rabbit is content to play with his best friend Harry, whom to everyone else appears imagined. As Little Rabbit makes friends at school, Harry becomes less and less a presence, slowly phasing out activity-wise, until Little Rabbit makes the startling realization that he hasn’t seen Harry for weeks. The results aren’t panic, but rather a sense that such is the natural order of things, that Harry’s moving away was an eventuality, and he will be fondly remembered. little rabbit klise spread_IH_18-19 It is of interest to me how making friends at school might change Little Rabbit’s excuses for not bathing or eating brussel sprouts, staying up past his bedtime, or requiring extra servings of cookies. Maybe Harry sincerely existed, rather than merely functioning as a ruse that the mother sometimes questions. He is likely both. In the end, he comes to represent a certain time in childhood, pre-dating the sort of agreements a child makes upon entering school. Harry is like summertime–which has me appreciating his association with before the school year. little rabbit klise spread_IH_4-5 M. Sarah adds lovely little details to her settings. You’ll notice the portraits and pictures on the walls. The opening double-page of the story hosts a portrait of the mother (l) and a row of smaller portraits of Little Rabbits peers (r) with one empty frame (or is Harry is just as invisible on film/in paint). Little Rabbit isn’t lonely. Though evidently an only child, we find images of a Mother Rabbit and Little Rabbit doing all kinds of activities together. Harry isn’t evidence of an absence in Little Rabbit’s life; just that there is plenty of room for imagination in any child’s life.


Check out: Little Rabbit and The Meanest Mother on the Earth (Harcourt 2010), my review.

activities to accompany the book, and an interview (via Harcourt). an excerpt:

“Little Rabbit was born from sketches Sarah drew a few years ago when we were working on one of the books in the Regarding the . . . series. She sent me some of those sketches and asked if I thought I could write a story about them. Who couldn’t have? They were so adorable and evocative. The nice thing about stories with rabbits is that children really relate to them—rabbits are both small and defenseless; they have no money or power; and they’re just trying to figure out life, bit by bit, problem by problem.”–Kate

{images (as marked) belong to the Kate and M. Sarah Klise}

"review" · juvenile lit · Picture book · Tales

{book} dillweed’s revenge

DAY 26

Dillweed’s Revenge: A Deadly Dose of Magic by Florence Parry Heide

Illustrated by Carson Ellis

Harcourt, 2010.

I found this in the children’s picture book section at the Tattered Cover Book store as I was browsing. I was drawn to Carson Ellis’ as illustrator, and after reading it ooked around the room at the grandmothers with their grandchildren and the plush characters and candy-coated book covers and wondered what Dillweed’s Revenge was doing here. Powell’s books lists it: from age 10; from grade 5.

The question is: once you’ve moved to the chapter book section of a library do you peruse the picture book section? I know in Libraries they put picture books with chapter books in the juvenile section—so maybe they can be read? Because Dillweed’s Revenge channels a darker Roald Dahl, the usual Edward Gorey, and The Willoughby’s by Lois Lowry, I know people who would we be interested in this particular picture book. And I know others who would shriek if their young readers brought this one to mommy or daddy to read. Maybe the shelver has a delicious sense of humor?

Dillweeds parents go on adventures and leave him behind with Umblud the butler and Perfidia the maid, who treat him like their slave. Neither Umblud or Perfidia or the parents appreciate Dillweeds cherished pet, a creature named Skorped. When they threaten Skorped’s life and well-being, Dillweed opens his black box and casts the runes, which releases smoky monsters, who do the dirty deeds. And then it’s Dillweed turn to go on adventures.

Filled with nasty characters, beautiful details, and subtle humor, this stylish book follows in the tradition of the deliciously dark work of Edward Gorey, so Dillweed’s happy ending undoubtedly means the end for someone else. –publisher’s comments.

I have to say that it wasn’t as “deliciously dark” as Edward Gorey, but the humor is “subtle,” even for those with a morbid sense of humor (like me). The subtlety of the humor may be less so for those who appreciate classic European children’s tales (which is why Lowry’s book came to mind). Umblud and Perfidia are evil and the menacing ghostly demons are as violent as they, and in a more tasteful turn, the parents’ demise is unseen. They really shouldn’t have tried to get rid of the creepy “cherished pet” of Dillweed’s. And it isn’t like he is being petulant or anything, the parents are neglectful and who else does he have, right?… Can’t say we aren’t warned by the title. And the cover is a good indicator as well that this is going to be for the darkling humored.

{adore the mirrored effect here, an allusion perhaps?}

{love the look of desperation on the boy’s face as he looks longingly at the plane, and as for the unwelcome guests: their attributes that are bound to repulse.}

Dillweed’s Revenge is also for fans of Carson Ellis who meets the Gorey-esque with her own brand of charm. She also adds to Heide’s story with her own brand of charm while fleshing out the text, providing details that help tell a cold story of revenge and creating an atmosphere of both a chilling fear and an ultimate shiver of triumph.

{images belong to Carson Ellis}

A good R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) read for the 10 & up set…

"review" · Children's · concenter · Illustrator · Picture book · poet-related · recommend

{illustrator} LeUyen Pham (pt 2)

Yesterday I posted a bit of what I learned about LeUyen Pham. Today I am looking at a few of the picture books she illustrated.

A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).

Marilyn Singer, a renowned poet, offers 18 poems involving outdoor play with games like double-dutch, hop-scotch, monkey in the middle, and swinging on the swings. What I loved was how this is not a collection of poems that excludes the urban landscape with its expanse of pavement, sidewalks, stoops, and diverse population. The poems vary, and some were more difficult for me to read aloud than others (more to do w/ my pronunciation, no doubt). My favorite poem was “Upside Down” and the book closes rather sweetly with “Stargazing.”

The images echo the energy in the poems; there is always movement. The skin tones are warm and the clothes vibrant against the colorful backdrops which project the idea of landscape onto the children themselves. They are where the action, the creativity, the relationships take place. They are unleashed upon the out-of-doors, walking on edges (in “Edges”) and running and chasing and crashing (in “Really Fast”). There is something classic in the images, old Golden Books come to mind. I’m not sure how intentional this is, but it is brings a certain nostalgia for old school outdoor play and the carefree summers running about the neighborhood (or ‘hood in “Hopscotch”) with your friends. But as the reviewer for School Library Journal points out, LeUyen Pham gives the book a modern seasoning to its nostalgia eliminating the all-white cast and putting girls on skateboards and placing jump-ropes in boys’ hands. Although, no one seems interested in demystifying the hopscotch fascination with girls.

[stick rumpus]

I noticed the lack of scrapes or band-aids, and Library School Journal questions the cleanliness and glow of the imagery in the illustrations and poetry. Monkey in the Middle can be fair, and splashing in the gutters isn’t a health hazard. The spirit of it is good though, and will no doubt be avoided by helicopter parents. I am hoping that librarians are putting this one on the end-caps and at eye-level, maybe above a nice pile of sticks.

A fantastic review by School Library Journal.


Once Around the Sun: Poems by Bobbi Katz (Harcourt Books, 2006)

In her 12 poems dedicated to each month on the calendar, Bobbi Katz subjects seasonal objects to personification in the most delightful ways. My favorite poem, and the first, “January” wishes the “sled would stop whispering “one more time” and once—just once—pull you back up that hill! The poems and the illustrations bring people together. “Grandma tells you how each spring she falls in love with the world all over again—and you understand” (“April”). It is multi-cultural, multi-generational, mult-geographical (love the urban inclusions) experience.


I enjoyed how in Marilyn Singer’s A Stick is an Excellent Thing, LeUyen Pham uses a cast of characters throughout, but I also enjoy her following a boy who has a little sister and a mom and dad and a dog and a grandmother) through Once Around the Sun. The child-oriented contemplations of the months and what they mean or bring seem suited to a singular character. The choice also allows for the illustrator to adapt the mood each poem brings more readily. The little boy becomes a thread and a joy.

see the story in this textless image that accompanies “September” on the facing page? New backpack being noticed, crisp clean (new) white shirt (that won’t say that way)…

I adore the color-work, and while it has a tinge of nostalgia, Katz and Pham are creating a sentimentality all their own, and in the present.


{from Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever}

Freckleface Strawberry was checked out so I ended up with two of the following books. LeUyen Pham told “Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast,” this about the experience:

Freckleface Strawberry (Bloomsbury Books), by Julianne Moore […] was great to do. Julie apparently was sent several artists’ work to select from, and she loved the book Big Sister, Little Sister I had done a couple years ago. She’s the sweetest person, and really let me go at it with the character. In fact, she even asked me to cover the little girl in freckles — initially, I was shy about putting too many dots on her! Contrary to popular opinion, I never saw pictures of Julie as a child. My editor and Julie were pretty adamant about the fact that the character should just come from my imagination. I was pretty surprised afterward to discover that the little girl I had drawn looks almost exactly like Julie’s daughter!”

Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury, 2009).

This is one of those rare bully stories these days where the bully isn’t actually a bully. Much of the mistaken identity is attributed to the power of the imagination—perceiving the big strong kid as a bully and the dodgeball as something that is out to seriously harm you. –but isn’t it though? We had mornings where Natalya felt the same kind of dread, hoping against all odds they would not be playing dodgeball. The book does not downplay the existence of bullies or monsters or even fear, and it doesn’t downplay the role of the imagination on a person’s life.

Freckleface Strawberry’s thought the ball would hurt, and had avoided play with Windy Pants Patrick. She also thought she could become a monster, practicing her role at the back while the game was being played. She imagined herself to be strong and fierce and agile. The power of the imagination can work for and against you.

The story has some lovely rhythmic moments. The sentences are as declarative as the expressions on Freckleface Strawberry’s face—no, her whole body. LeUyen Pham fluidly sketches a distinct personality into the character. There is this beautiful moment where Freckleface Strawberry is curled into herself a bit in dread, and in some memory of a wince—already anticipating the sting of the ball. She hadn’t left the house yet. I don’t know if the Monster is in previous books, but I adore its appearance here. Her imagination is projected into a looming shadow of a Monster behind her, echoing her movements—until at last it goes to tip-toe away, anxious, too, about Windy Pants Patrick and the dodgeball. With Moore’s dramatic tension and Pham’s ability to create dimension we arrive at the moment of truth with the same sentiment to which Freckleface Strawberry comes—“Oh!” I love learning the lessons alongside the character, and Moore plays off common misperceptions and worry well to deliver a nice turn. Pham artfully brings the inner workings to the page. It is a lovely partnership.

Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury, 2011).

First thoughts: Could this book be any sweeter? I love it. Windy Pants Patrick is back as Freckleface Strawberry’s best friend. The other kids thought they were too different to be best friends, let alone friends. So even though it was their differences (from others) that brought them together (both being odd sizes, having nicknames, and families who love them, loving to read and eat lunch), their differences viewed differently, however, could keep them apart. Classic scenarios where boys don’t play with girls and vice versa ala “boys stink.” Each gender and height and interest and family make-up has its own place—so they really don’t have enough in common. Except they do. And it is a nice aspect to the story how they drift apart and drift back together again. While the reader/listener understands social dynamics and has probably witnessed or experienced the story themselves, we are rooting for the friendship—and likely inspired.

The story feels too real to be message-y. It is another snapshot from Freckleface Strawberry’s life and again it just resonates. I would have loved to have read these to N when she was younger. Moore and Pham offer very relevant, if not strictly entertaining work. Fortunately, Natalya isn’t too grown-up to read picture books and found Freckleface Strawberry charming and fun—and familiar.

The presentation of the book is fun and colorful, but not overwhelming—simply stated and straightforward in language and illustration; and yet the texture is there. While Pham provides more color and setting, I thought about Ian Falconer’s Olivia and how much of an impact an inked figure of a pig in a tutu could have. There is no mistaking the driving force in the text and images in either Olivia or Freckleface Strawberry.


LeUyen Pham’s site.

{All images belong to her and their respective publishers}