"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

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}

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

{illustrator} Molly Idle

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 Nine” features two books and an Illustrator’s Spotlight!

Day Nine: Tea Rex AND Flora and the Flamingo

******************************************************************molly idle highwire_business_slide

“Idleness is not doing nothing. Idleness is being free to do anything.”–Floyd Dell- American writer 1887/1969 (as found upon opening Molly Idle’s website)

Molly Idle can be found on the web at Idleillustration.com where she links a “Portfolio,” her “Books,” “Contact” info, and her blog Wackiness Ensues…. According to said website (under “About”), Molly Idle may otherwise be found “in Arizona with her brilliant husband, two wonderfully mischievous sons, and two snugly cats. When not making mischief with her boys or watching old Technicolor musicals, she can be found at her desk scribbling away, with a pencil in one hand and a cup of espresso in the other- creating a plethora of profoundly whimsical picture books!”

I will be sharing three out of the plethora. I may have to support my local Library with more than only the three I could find. I’m really excited to share this Illustrator-Author with you –that is, if you haven’t the pleasure.

Further mining of her “About” page: 

molly idle photoMolly Idle has been drawing ever since she could wield a pencil. But while she started scribbling before she could walk, her professional career as an artist began slightly later…

It was upon her graduation from Arizona State University, with a BFA in Drawing, that Molly accepted an offer to work for DreamWorks Feature Animation Studios.  After five years, a number of film credits, and an incredibly good time, she left the studio and leapt with gusto into the world of children’s book illustration!

molly idle my_shadow_slide

{from Robert Louis Stevenson’s My Shadow (Child’s World, 2011)}

Charming is the word that I keep arriving at with the picture books Molly Idle has illustrated. There is that “profound whimsy,” the gentle humor. The color palettes are irresistible; the light/shadow; the curve, extension, and attitude of lines and, in turn, her characters and sets. Her books are warm and funny, drawing short of cloying to balance them perfectly upon that appealing edge that is charming.

When you have another moment or two, Check out “7 Questions over Breakfast with Molly Idle” at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast wherein we learn (among many other things) that she works “work with Prismacolor pencils. Only pencils. I don’t paint,” and her favorite word is “infamous.” It is an especially good interview.

So…I want to share two books today, and the third tomorrow. You’re welcome.

TeaREX_CVRcomp-833x1024Tea Rex by Molly Idle; Viking (Penguin) 2013.

Some tea parties are for grown-ups.
Some are for girls.
But this tea party is for a very special guest.
And it is important to follow some rules . . .
like providing comfortable chairs,
and good conversation,
and yummy food.
But sometimes that is not enough for special guests,
especially when their manners are more Cretaceous than gracious . . . (jacket copy)


Tea Rex reads like a conduct book, an instructional piece for how to have guests for tea. While the knowledgeable instructor (I heard the voice of Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins), the illustrations offer a hilarious backdrop to the text; “a good host meets these little challenges with a cheerful smile…” The illustrations and text work so perfectly together, the prim and proper tone ever threatening to break under the—er—challenges of having T-Rex as your guest for tea.



As Kirkus Reviews writes, “Idle’s smallest details are where the true pleasure lies, as when the hostess bores her guests with talk of begonias, and the T-Rex surreptitiously checks the watch on his tiny little wrist.” Note, too, the brother/boy character; please do not gender this humorous picture book…and be sure to serve tea, snacks, and provide spoons to balance on your nose.


flora cover

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle ; Chronicle Books, 2013

Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony. (publisher’s comments)

No one told me Flora and the Flamingo had flaps to lower! They probably didn’t think my heart could stand it: the illustrations floating around the kidlitosphere are already just so damn pretty.

I should let the images speak for themselves, as Molly Idle does in her picture book; the line work and the warm pink, the eloquence in form and expression. I do have to add that the choosing a flamingo over, say, a swan was a marvelous decision, as are those delicate blossoms framing the white-page theater of the performance. I love this one, it’s so elegant and smart.

flora03._V376486691_If you want to give the gift of beauty this holiday season…


Of note…this would be fun to translate into a short performance piece between a grown or older dancer and a young student.

Kirkus Reviews reviews this picture book rather nicely, despite the cringe-worthy-moment of “dumpily clad.” ….&…. The Horn Book‘s Elissa Gershowitz reviews, wherein she writes: “The book is cinematic, comedic, and balletic, with remarkable dynamic pacing facilitated by those ingenious flaps. Spare illustrations in a limited palette, mostly tutu-pinks with pops of yellow on pristine white pages, allow the characters’ physical and emotional chemistry — and the book’s physical comedy — to take center stage.” ….&…. Elizabeth Bird at School Library Journal says, “Flora and the Flamingo is notable because it is a perfect amalgamation of wordless storytelling, likable (or at least understandable) characters, and an artistic sensibility that will make you forget its unique formatting and remind you only of the classic picture book days of yore.”


{Images belong to Molly Idle}

stay tuned for Day 10: Zombelina by Kristyn Crow, illustrated by Molly Idle

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

{illustrator} alex latimer

I will 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.

alex latimer jelly fish children's illustration

{jellyfish by alex latimer via; love this}

Today I want to share Alex Latimer whose Penguin’s Hidden Talent (Peachtree 2012) was  Day 19 of last year’s “31 Days of Picture Books” feature and was one of the illustrator/authors with whom I wanted to follow-up. When I saw that the Library actually had a copy of The Boy Who Cried Ninja (Peachtree 2011) checked-in—finally!! I set aside my big-L Literature for a moment. I have to share.


website : blog : twitter : art prints

I am a writer and illustrator based in Cape Town. My first children’s book, The Boy Who Cried Ninja, was published in April 2011. Between working on more books – I write and illustrate for magazines, ad campaigns and family birthday cards. (blog’s “About Me”)

———–bibliography (w/ links & publisher’s copy)———–

The Boy Who Cried Ninja (Peachtree 2011)

see ‘review’ below.

alex latimer penguin coverPenguin’s Hidden Talent (Peachtree 2012)

“All of Penguin’s friends are excited about the upcoming talent show, but Penguin can’t seem to figure out what his talent is.”

The South African Alphabet / Die Suid-Afrikaanse Alfabet (Penguin 2012)

“splendid South African illustrations make learning the alphabet as easy as A, B, C.”

alex latimer lion v bunny coverLion vs Rabbit (Peachtree 2013)

“Lion bullies all the other animals until finally they can’t take it anymore. They post an ad, asking for help.”

From Aardvark to Zuma (Penguin 2013)

“This book captures and alphabetises the essence of South Africa.”

alex latimer JustSoStoriesRudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories (Penguin 2013) more images here.

“Now these classic gems have been given a new look for a new generation. Illustrated by children’s book author Alex Latimer, each story comes alive anew with Latimer’s own insights and humour.”

alex latimer with patrick 25609gransdog-copy

Latimer had, too, in the recent past, teamed up with his (also very talented) illustrator brother Patrick on “The Western Nostril


I found a few interviews of interest. [I hope “7 Imps” asks to breakfast with Latimer at some point, I think that would be really entertaining.] In the meantime…

The Book Club Blog” (Jan 9, 2013) wherein they ask “When did you first become aware that you were interested in illustration?” and Alex Latimer replies:

“I’ve always loved to draw – but I don’t think I realised I could be an illustrator until about eight years ago. It was then that I wrote the script for my first children’s book The Boy Who Cried Ninja – and having had no luck in finding an illustrator to draw it up, I did it myself. It took a lot of practice and hard work, but I’m very glad I did it.”

and the “worst book he’s read to date?”…I know many who would agree.

alex latimer zombie print

{zombies by Alex Latimer via}

Caleigh Bright for GQ (?2013) hosts a lovely interview as well. A few questions, the first with Aardvark to Zuma in mind: How does creating a picture book for adults differ from the process of creating children’s books like The Boy Who Cried Ninja and Penguin’s Hidden Talent?

They’ve both got their own challenges. With children’s books the writing and the illustrations have to be very simple and pared down, whereas with books for adults, there can be more complexity in the drawings and much more text. And to be honest, I think that children’s books are probably more difficult to create – simply because you need to convey a whole story with characters and a plot line and a resolution to the plot line in about 400 words.

What are three words that you’d use to describe your style of illustration?  Fun, playful, humorous.


what 3 words might I use to describe Alex Latimer’s style of illustration? playful and humorous are good words; but I need another word that captures smart, incisive, yet understated…


alex latimer ninja cover

When the last piece of chocolate cake went missing, it really was a ninja. And a giant squid did eat his whole book bag (wherein his homework was left). Oddly enough, no one believes Tim. So while he is forced to think things over while doing heavy labor, he decides maybe lying would be better. It isn’t. When a pirate drank all the tea from the pot, Tim “owned up.” When a time travelling monkey throws pencils at his sleeping grampa, “Tim said it was all his fault.” Tim comes up with a great solution over more chore-work and contemplation and it is a happy ending for everyone.

alex latimer BOY_NINJA 3

I wrote “Oddly enough, no one believes Tim,” but this simple 30-some page picture book demonstrates a daring sort of tension for which humor can allow. The boy isn’t naughty, as I think we expect in any tale referencing “The Boy Who Cried Wolf;” The Boy Who Cried Ninja questions that supposition. However, Tim is a bit of a known storyteller from page one’s  illustration (free lunch, really?) and text (“Once there was a boy named Tim who no one believed”). Storytellers of any repute are suspect, aren’t they? I, for one, would be fully convinced by the sea monster tale. But which side takes the “storytelling” too far? The astronaut and sun-burned crocodile is playful, sure, but what do we do with the part where Tim feels like his truth isn’t believable and a lie is preferable, except it isn’t really. Maybe it is just that there is a recent conversation on ‘integrity’ on my mind, but: is there not some sort of line between the mischievous child and a bad child? The picture book makes us laugh at the sometimes ridiculousness of the adult-child relationship and the oft-times overly-simplistic moralist children’s story.

alex latimer boy ninja

According to the copyright page, the “artwork [is] created as pencil drawings, digitized, then finished with color and texture.” The colors are warm and bright. Less really proves to be more, the humor emerging from the rather uncomplicated details of his straightforward, somewhat spare illustrations. Latimer removes the need to make a fine study of each character for children and adults to understand who and what they are about, posture and eye-lines in illustration do the rest. Latimer’s use of voice bubbles with images is wondermous; there is no need for the long text dialog there. And he extends speech bubbles over the next page to encompass a flashback of the actual event as Tim explains what actually happened. To see is believe, here. We do not just have to take his word for it.


{images belong to Alex Latimer, do follow links and what-not to get better acquainted, thanks.}

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

{book} madam president

DAY 02

Madam President written/illustrated by Lane Smith

Hyperion Books for Children, 2008.

I am fairly new to Lane Smith and we’ve only met over a few books featuring very head-strong young ladies. He has a noticeable a knack for depicting them well. Judith Viorst’s Lulu and Florence Parry Heide’s Princess Hyacinth are neither cute nor hideous. They carry the angles he gives them well and “flounce,” “bounce,” and “squee” are not words that come to mind when they express themselves!

A grade-school girl Katy takes us through the day in the life of an American president—well, not any American president, but herself: Madam President. “Katy skips the hand-wringing and never questions whether a girl could become commander-in-chief — instead, she behaves as if she is president already, fulfilling official duties at home and in school.”—Publisher’s Weekly


Madam President begins with Katy addressing the Reader (and/or listener) from her bed having already started her day reading  a book titled The Presidents, “A president has many duties.” She is very comfortable in her role as Madam President as she takes us through her day. She is nonplussed by photo-ops with bewildered boy scouts (the troops?), peace treaties to negotiate between cat and dog, and dealing with crises (aka the “Disaster Area” that is her room). Dressed in a smart pantsuit, from one task to the next she leaves little American flags in her wake. My favorite two-page spread is when we are introduced to her cabinet, “A president must choose a capable cabinet.” I am a fan of the idea of having a Secretary of Naps and a Secretary of Fantasy; the sock monkey and winged unicorn were nice choices for each. There are a lot of silly moments (“A president must tackle press conferences gracefully”) and it is a fun way to approach the subject of just what does the President of the United States do? and What do we expect them to do?

Katy is very passionate in her role as Madam President for the day and on the subject of presidents in general. There are books, posters, paintings, and sculptures of past presidents throughout. And there are references to other powerful American leaders as well. A copy of The Biography of Frederick Douglass lay on her floor beneath the Secretary of Secretaries and a book about Harriet Tubman is peeking out beneath her bed. There is an image of Susan B. Anthony on Katy’s wall, and she declares her importance as president atop a bust of Eleanor Roosevelt.

At the end of the day, Katy doesn’t return to being a little girl who gets tired and was merely imagining a day as if it were “typical childhood play pretend.” She didn’t start her day as anyone but the Katy we see throughout. So when the ambassador from Freedonia arrives and she’s already tucked into bed with the comic section of the newspaper, Katy suggests he see the vice president, because “sometimes even a president gets pooped.” As the color palette and all the strong geometric structures suggest, for all the play, there is plenty to take seriously. Madam President is brilliant, and a must.

recommendations:  Madam President is fun and inspiring, and a great companion to Kelly DiPucchio’s Grace for President this election season. For girls and boys, 4-8.

of note: I have noticed this with Lane Smith in particular: but the placement of the text in sequence with the illustration is particularly brilliant. One understates the other, the first setting up the second, alternating between which is first text or image depending on story not equal opportunity. Picture books are designed and Lane Smith has a good partner in wife Molly Leach who is a book designer (see bio).

More on design by Jon Sciezska w/ Molly Leach and Lane Smith: “Design Matters” (The Horn Book Magazine March/April 1998). And do check out: 7 Impossible Things…” 7 Questions over Breakfast w/ Lane Smith

all images belong to Lane Smith and Hyperion; be sure to check out more of his work here; and you can bet I will be posting more about him in the future. meanwhile, my review of Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst, illus by Mr. Smith.

"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}

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

{book} grace for president

We talk a lot about publishing books and films with strong female protagonists (and feminist themes) for the sake of our daughters. But how about publishing these works for the sake of our sons as well? Often portrayals of female heroes create a more masculine-than-thou figure, with the woman and/or girl out performing their male cast members in exhibiting “masculine traits” more successfully than anyone else and therefore they are a most powerful and enviable figure. The situation mimics those of a man emasculating another man in our culturally observed hierarchies. This device becomes difficult in how it still favors one gender over another; and while it may be an empowering moment for the girl, it becomes inaccessible to any other. Now I am not opposed to focused libraries, or empowering young people. I just think that there must be room to portray an empowered girl (and feminist sentiment like equality) that is accessible to and not at the expense of our young males.

One Monday morning in September, Mrs. Barrington rolled out a big poster with all of the presidents’ pictures on it. Grace Campbell could not believe her eyes. Where are the GIRLS?

Wearing a tank top that makes me think Wonder Woman, Grace stews on the fact that the United States has never had a female president. She decides to run for office. And the wonderful Mrs. Barrington decides they should hold an election and invites another class to join in. Thomas Cobb is nominated as their candidate and this is worrisome to Grace. Thomas was a winner.

This is where I must tell you that this book is great in an election year. Each of the non-running students drew a state and thus controlled that state’s electoral college. This is explained to the students and readers, and expanded upon in an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book. Each candidate campaigns and models the popular ways of doing so. They create slogans and posters, list campaign promises, meet with constituents, and hold polls. Grace gives speeches, hands out free treats, and holds rallies. You see her go the extra mile. And we find that Thomas doesn’t necessarily need to. “He had cleverly calculated that the boys held slightly more electoral votes than the girls.”

It is a nice addition the story to see how sincere Grace is about creating change and becoming a true leader. “Even before the election, Grace made good on her promises.” She models a good civic leader.

We come to the election day and each student, costumed to represent their state publicly cast their electoral votes. With Thomas at 268 and Grace at 267 there is only one more state and this 3 electoral vote will decide the election. The state is “The Equality State” of Wyoming and the student is a boy. It is a tense double-page spread wondering how Sam  was going to vote. And then—-he votes for “the best person for the job” (emphasis mine).

The election had transcended gender expectations and voting along strict party gender lines. The story became about our ideals: voting for the right person for the job as well as being the right person for the job.

“When deciding on how Grace should look, I thought an African American girl sounded ideal, and gave her as much spunk as I could. This, of course, was before Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton decided to run for president — how timely that my candidate is both female and African American!” LeUyen Pham (interview w/ “7 Impossible Things before Breakfast.”)

Grace is a bold figure who would encourage the female and minority reader to not be daunted by the way things are, envisioning a way things could be. DiPucchio creates realistic obstacles for Grace—at least in the proposed age bracket. The election process is not easy on Grace, and there is a lovely moment of her slumped in a winged-back chair exhausted. So the story isn’t a motherly pat followed by an “of course you can, sweetie.” The book is more of a “please do,” with the reassurance that even a little blonde boy from Wyoming is a probable voter.

The book ends with a final image. A page depicting a grown-up Grace Campbell taking her oath of presidential office (from a more diminutive elderly white man).  The opening and closing end pages? The first are framed portraits of presidents with Grace standing there holding her own frame, inserting herself into the gallery. The closing is a depiction of the Mount Rushmore with a carving of Grace’s visage beside Abe Lincoln’s.

LeUyen Pham’s images go a long way toward the dramatization and impact of the story. It is vibrant with youthful energy, patterns and color. The main characters are given a lot of personality and share much of the characterization with the author. You will likely notice when Sam with his body facing Thomas during the double-page “meeting with constituents,” has his head is turned toward Grace. But did you notice in the following pages how he is at every one of Grace’s activities (minus the rally) as well as Thomas’? Grace is not the only powerful figure at work in the book. Both Grace and Sam are fighting for opportunity, for equality, and for the best person for the job.

You may think Grace for President is a good book for the girls in your life reader or no, but this is an informative and inspiring picture book for the boys in your life as well!


recommendations: Grades K-4; though Natalya (at grade 7 found it enjoyable, too). Great for explaining the election process from campaigning to how votes are tallied.

of note: I had seen this when it was out and making all the lists, but I was driven to check it out from the library because the illustrator LeUyen Pham—stay tuned for an {illustrator} post very soon.

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio

Illustrations by LeUyen Pham

Hyperion, 2008. Hardcover, 40 pages.