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

{book} oscar and the mooncats

DAY 14

Oscar and the Mooncats by Lynda Gene Rymond

Illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

No surprise for those who know me that I just recognized Ceccoli from the cover and had to pick it up once it was confirmed she was the illustrator—had no idea what the story was about. What a find, because Rymond is quite wonderful as well!

“Oscar loves his boy. But is love enough to get him home again?” (jacket copy). His talent for jumping up onto high places to see everything better lands Oscar onto the Moon one night. While some cats might jump to the moon and fall into distraction and forgetfulness Oscar is determined to make it home to his boy.

Oscar is a bit wild in that his exuberance takes him a bit too far. He doesn’t rein it in in time despite the pleas and scolding of his boy and from the roof he “sprang into the mightiest leap of his life…” The trouble in which he finds himself does not seem so troublesome at first, but being home is good too; and when that ability to return looks to be lost? Well, author Lynda Gene Rymond shows us that Oscar’s ability to take risks works in his favor as well. Oscar learns his lesson though. While being a jumping cat is who he will always be, he isn’t going to let that get in the way of his coming home.

It is a sweet story and I love the dynamic between the cat and his boy. The cat is this wild, mind-of-his-own kind of creature who pushes the limits of himself and the world about him—sound familiar? The boy cares for him, meeting both physical and emotional needs—who could that be? Rymond and Ceccoli are empathetic to them both.

Nicoletta Ceccoli makes gorgeous use of mixed-media illustration—as expected. The book lists that her mixed media includes “plasticine, acrylics, collage, and computer graphics.” The approach provides dimension, texture, and high visual interest—and with a cohesive quality that is truly remarkable. Ceccoli plays with perspective, shifting angles and depths, manipulating the lighting and lengthening distances, heights—which is of course is pertinent to the story. What can Oscar see from those heights of his? It is fun to pick out the references in the text as well as the other objects Ceccoli places in the setting. The sweets tin placed upon the top of the book cabinet is a nice touch, and the repetition of object-memory from the living room at the beginning and outer space.

I knew I could expect a treat from Ceccoli, her colors, textures, lighting and perspectives, but Rymond was new and the story equally unanticipated. Love when it all comes together. Without a doubt the story benefits from Ceccoli, but it does stand along quite captivating on its own.

Recommendations usually run from ages 3-5, but this would be good further along for those early readers who still crave the interactive qualities of picture books.

{images belong to Nicoletta Ceccoli and can be viewed at both author and illustrator’s sites.}

my previous posts referencing/featuring Nicoletta Ceccoli: Horns & Wrinkles, The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap, “ah, nicoletta,” “3 Barefoot Books.”

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

3 Barefoot Books & Ceccoli

Continuing in appreciation for Nicoletta Ceccoli’s work, I picked up 3 of her picture books at the Library. All of which happen to be published by Barefoot Books who in turn, seem to provide a good catalog of books to browse. They employ authors/illustrators from all over the planet and have a sizable bilingual section.

Those familiar with Ceccoli’s illustrations will notice a difference in these Barefoot Books: the absence of mixed-media collage or her beautiful but eery doll-like characters. Just the same, Ceccoli’s signature is all over these stories. The soft palette and lovely use of color, the lighting. The whimsical voice and the composition that draw the eye into further interest beyond the moment, without pulling the reader away from the author’s own composition.

An Island in the Sun by Stella Blackstone

illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Barefoot Books 2002

In a spectacular seascape, a young boy sails for a distant island where he finds a special friend waiting for him. Who could it be? Children will delight in pointing out the animals and objects that the little boy spies along his journey.~publisher’s comments.

“I spy with my little eye…” The young boy sails the sea accumulating things in his spyglass via a sing-song rhyming game. As if this isn’t an amusement enough, there are other things for the reader to spy along the way–not in the hideous jumble of junk drawers an I Spy book, but a few lovely things here and there.

In a gentle spin on daydreams and boys’ adventures out to sea, the young boy finally arrives at his island to not find wild things waiting, but a much tamer and sweeter friend. They play until it is time for him to go home again. The movement from “I spy with my little eye…” is not completely discarded in the transitions, but revisited via a memory game, “What did I spy with my little eye?” Or is it an invitation to begin the story again?

I would’ve loved to have known about this when Natalya was younger. The illustrations are so pleasing! The words sing themselves from the page, and the gentle adventure is a delightful daydream. An Island in the Sun is a great source of fun activity and for the educational sort it is rife with prepositions and the spatial relationships between things.

The Faerie’s Gift by Tanya Robyn Batt

Illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Barefoot Books, 2003.

If you could make a single wish, what would you wish for? Would you ask for something that would transform your own life, or would you try to take the needs of your family into consideration, too? A humble woodcutter faces this very dilemma when he rescues a faerie one day in the woods. A flash of inspiration provides the answer that makes everyone’s wish come true.~publisher’s comments.

The humble young woodcutter lives in a house with his wife and his aging mother and father.  “Life was hard. Old Man Poverty sat on the doorstep and snatched away everything good that came their way” (5). He and his wife could not have a baby and his mother had gone blind, “the world about her like a curtain of darkness” (3).

One day the woodcutter rescued a faerie in the woods who in gratitude gave the young man the only thing he had, a single wish. But what to do? His own fancies take flight about him until he remembers there are others in hardship as well. He seeks his family’s advice and each have desires of their own–and not frivolous ones either.

The Faerie’s Gift is about Patience, Ingenuity, and ultimately Unselfishness. As the faerie was exceedingly generous, so may be the woodcutter, who, notably, found a way to gift all the others with their desires; and the happiness was all his. And really, he seemed to have learned unselfishness from those around him, as well as patience. His mother raised him, and his father was spare in speech but wise when he did advise his son. There are all kinds of ways this story addresses the unselfish act while still being an enjoyable story to read–not to mention look at.

The Faerie’s Gift is laid out in two small images atop and below text and a full illustration on the facing page. Little Red Riding Hood below is formatted the same way. The two images capture the action of the text, and the facing page a portrait that would signify the moment. It is a lovely way to accompany the author’s storytelling. Ceccoli could easily overtake the text. As it is, her work embodies the spirit of the story, is quietly emotive, and ever breathing in the soft unassuming light.

Little Red Riding Hood retold by Josephine Evetts-Secker

Illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Barefoot Books, 2004.

Unlike the recent fractured-fairy-tale versions that make Red Riding Hood a strong hero who rescues herself, this picture book dramatizes the archetypal story of the loss of innocence. Red Riding Hood is a sweet, overprotected child. She always keeps to the path and does what grown-ups say–until one day she meets the wolf, who shows her the beauty of the woods and makes her stray. It’s all shown with fun and uproar: the greedy beast rushes ahead and gobbles up Grandma and the little girl, and the woodcutter rescues them. But Ceccoli’s beautiful, soft-toned pictures in acrylics, pencils, and oil pastels focus on the wolf’s seductive power, his sleek body circling the child enraptured by a world she never saw before. On the last page, the child is in the cozy kitchen with Grandma, but outside the shadowy forest beckons. The story is very child friendly; there’s no analysis. But the author is a Jungian scholar, and folklorists and students of children’s literature will want to talk about the underlying coming-of-age journey. Hazel Rochman, Copyright © American Library Association

Hazel Rochman sums it up quite perfectly, wording my own response better than the few notes I’d made after the read. While the story is old and familiar, the decision on Evetts-Secker’s part to forgo the ‘fractured-fairytale’ route is of interest, and refreshment. Pairing her story with Ceccoli’s enchanting style is another brilliant move (on somebody’s part).

The only dark and threatening aspect is the large smoke-like wolf who is somewhat serpentine and en[w]rapturing. Flowers aren’t a bad idea, nor are small adventures (like walking to grandma’s house). The wolf is hardly unreasonable in his whispers to the young girl, but still, she’d had her instructions, it would have been best to stick to them.

Besides the interesting variation upon the ending, there is a nice introduction to the girl at the beginning.

In a cozy cottage on the outskirts of a sheltered village there once lived a little girl who was quiet and good. No one noticed her, until one day she appeared in a bright red cape with ribbons to fasten the hood under her chin. Now, people turned their heads on the village street and everyone delighted to see her. From that day on, she was known as Little Red riding Hood.

The grandmother made her the cape by the way. Ms. Rochman is right, “folklorists and students of children’s literature will want to talk about the underlying coming-of-age journey” from page one. Her subtly beneath the calm exterior, the toned-down violence, and gentle sway of words is echoed in Ceccoli’s work. Little Red Riding Hood is rich retelling of a classic cautionary tale.


previous posts featuring Ceccoli’s work: here and here.

Ms. Ceccoli’s site.

*first image “Incubi Celeste” by Nicoletta Ceccoli

"review" · Children's · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

ah, nicoletta

It has been some months since I featured one of my favorite Illustrators Nicoletta Ceccoli. The blog “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast” posted on a new picture book by Ceccoli and they had this video where Ceccoli talks about her work. I immediately went to see if the Library has some picture books with Ceccoli’s name on them.

The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum

written by Kate Bernheimer, pictures by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008.

Once there was a small castle on display in a museum. When children visited, they’d press close to the glass globe in which the castle sat. For they’d heard that if they looked hard enough, they’d see a tiny girl inside….

Can you see her?

Here is an original fairy tale that feels like a dream—haunting, beautiful, and completely unforgettable. ~dust jacket

Inside the Castle inside a Museum that is Inside the Story that is this book, which was inside the imagination of Kate Bernheimer and Nicoletta Ceccoli. Dreamers inside dreams who have dreams wherein the reader is brought to mind.

The story and its images would defy the dimensions of a page. Ceccoli plays with dimensions (some Escheresque details), media, and shadows, while Bernheimer acknowledges the reader in a theatrical violation of the fourth wall. The story resides in simultaneity, multiple planes living and interacting. Reader and character alike are enlivened; the reader inspired to dream by the one they would dream about.

Even if the reader doesn’t leave their photograph in the frame on the girl’s wall, the reader has already kept her company.

The Girl inside the Castle inside the Museum is an equal parts disturbing and enchanting fairytale. I highly recommend it.


“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?” ~Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (and epigraph to A Dignity of Dragons by Jacqueline K. Ogburn)

A Dignity of Dragons: Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts 

by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli.

Houghton Mifflin, 2010.

With inventive groupings, luminous artwork, and a fact-filled glossary, A Dignity of Dragons makes for a bestiary to treasure. For within its pages, you’ll learn about all the creatures you may be lucky enough to see, if know where to look. ~dust jacket.

“Everyone has heard of groups of animals—a pride of lions, a charm of hummingbirds, a school of fish. If you came upon magical beasts gathered together, what would you call them?” (2) Jacqueline K. Ogburn is marvelous in her response to this question. A Dignity of Dragons is a fun and enchanting read.

A dazzlement of Quetzalcoatls/An arch of rainbow snakes

A few groupings I especially liked (that are not already mentioned): A grapple of griffins. A resurrection of phoenix. A continent of kracken. A flurry of yetis. A pandemonium of fauns. A faculty of centaurs.

A flame of feng hwangs/A resurrection of phoenix/A flash of firebirds

If the reader is curious who some of the creatures are, or to whom they belong, there is a glossary at the back. This is a beautiful book and a must see for lovers of magical creatures. And Nicoletta Ceccoli was the perfect fit as an illustrator for this collection of collective nouns. Kirkus writes,

Every figure is pretty, but the illustrator staves off preciosity by injecting plenty of drama into her compositions — like a scary “riddle of sphinx” gazing down clinically on a small pilgrim or a ship of ancient design being attacked simultaneously by a “vengeance of harpies,” a “tangle of gorgons” and a (bare-breasted) “chord of sirens.” Enthralling fare for addicts of myth and fantasy…


my two other posts featuring books Nicoletta Ceccoli illustrated: here & here.

A Dignity of Dragons images from 7 Impossible Things for Breakfast on their review of said book.

Both these books fit into the Once Upon a Time Challenge (V): The first book being a fairytale, the second dealing in myth

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales

a sense of proportion

The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap

by H. M. Bouwman

cover illustration by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Marshall Cavendish Children, 2008.

270 pages.

Lucy is the Colay girl, above left. Snowcap is the Anglish girl, below right. Both are absolutely horrid little girls. Well, I guess they are not little at age 12. Horrid tween-agers? The point is, is that for our Protagonist and Deuteragonist they are not the usual sort of heroines on adventure in a middle-school novel. And it is wonderful. Absolutely brilliant!


I’d mentioned the other day a desire to start browsing books by illustrator as a sort of experiment. I had remarked that I was two for two on books illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli. We can now make that three for three.

I admit that the cover illustrator was not the sole reason for reading the book. I also read the dust jacket/summary:

Set on fictional islands off northeast America in 1787, this story features two twelve-year-old girls from different cultures–one a native islander and one English–who join forces on a journey to save themselves, their people, and one special baby. It is part historical (based on convicts who were sent to the Americas before the Revolutionary War and Australia’s history) and part fantasy (the land holds magical properties). Above all, it’s a captivating adventure in the tradition of The Princess Bride–with shipwrecks, curses, chases, murder plots, kidnapping, rebellion, narrow escapes, magic (of all kinds), romantic legends, thieves and politicians (sometimes both), a caring schoolteacher and a handsome horse groom, a pair of feisty (sometimes difficult) heroines, and the mysterious power of storytelling at its center!

The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap is a richly imagined story by a remarkable new author.

I haven’t seen word of any new books by this “remarkable new author” Heather M. Bouwman, but I feel that if she were to continue her course, she would quick join the shelves of Frances Hardinge and Gail Carson Levine fans. The comparisons would be made in the constancy of their characterizations. And perhaps, the vocabularies. Do love the presence of the word Oubliette (84).

Lucy and Snowcap are not likable girls. While they have suffered in many ways similar to other heroines of other similar adventure stories, these girls take different track–a wholly believable one. They become pains in the as backside of their respective villages/towns.

Lucy is a plain talking sort, and “if people call me names, I’ll glare” (4). She hasn’t any friends. Her only sometime playmates, her twin cousins, were turned to stone with all the other males of the Colay Islanders. Her demeanor hardens after the loss of her father to stone, and solidifies when the midwife has her carry her newly born brother to the stone gardens where he would turn as well. No, I’m not making excuses, as the author (refreshingly) does not.

Snowcap is the greater wretch of the two. “Why, within the last week alone she had been exquisitely and forcefully nasty to quite a few people” (90). A list numbering to 8 follows, but more than 8 people are referenced.

“You think I’m dull?” Snowcap’s head felt like it were going to explode. her hands curled into fists. “No. But predictable. For instance, when I saw you comin’ just now, I knew you’d be yelpin’. And next, you’re thinkin’ how hard to pummel me and of nasty things to say about my kin. Right?” Snowcap punched him, called his mother a ferret, and ran off” (193).

And this to Adam, the only person to count on caring about her since her parents were murdered. Needless to say she doesn’t have any friends either. (I kept picturing Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)).

The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap is a journey story. Though it has a “captivating adventure” I disagree that its “above all.” The last lines before The End on page 265 exclaim the “above all” of the story, and though blatantly stated, you can figure it out well before then. For all the adventures, scrapes and twists, the Tale is focused. Everyone can change. And not without help, or even without reason for that matter; and often the change is unbidden however necessary. All the characters (to include the Islands) undergo, or have undergone change due to the various impetuses that create Change. Reality is met and choices have to be made.

You have a story where convicts from England en route to be sold in Virginia as indentured servants shipwreck. They find already inhabited islands and declare them a colony for England. You populate the story with a few hapless, a few hardened, a few family-bred criminals. Then you add two girls who are anything but selfless and endearing. This is a brilliant setting for illustrating Change.

Lucy and Snowcap our “feisty” heroines do not change into “sometimes difficult” until closer the end. And the author doesn’t let them off the hook by making it easy. Their motivations for the individual ventures are not wholly selfless, and when they get together they are as awful to each other as anyone else. Philip and Adam catch up to Snowcap and Lucy. “Snowcap snorted loudly. “She’s so stubborn; there’s no reasoning with her.” Philip and Adam exchange a look, and Adam murmured, “Oh? That’s some justice.” (183).  Still, they do begin to try to be civil and compassionate. And they come to find that they can still be true to themselves while doing so–actually they are more than true in nature. It really is nicely done.

From “A Timeline of the English in Tathenland” (xiii): “Oh, dear. The story needs far more detail than an outline can lend. It is a story, after all, and it should be told like one.” Thus, the story begins properly, narrated by at third person omniscient. The narration revolves around four characters, Lucy, Snowcap, Philip (the Tutor), and Adam (the Horse Groom). However, the chapters do not exactly alternate, but rely on a more intuitive progression of a storyteller.

So, alongside the promise of a Journey that will harbor change agents, interwoven is the preoccupation with Storytelling and Recorded History. The Colay have a culture of oral history, stories told seasonally or occasionally, and others specifically. “History is in the mouths of the people who tell it. […] Whoever tells the story controls it. Whoever knows the story of their own past possesses something as important as–as children” (74). The conversational setting is the misrepresentation of the Colay people and the events of 12 years ago (when the Anglish came) and those of more recent (the murder of the Anglish Governor and his wife).  Philip who is among the minute number of literate convicts aspires to be a Great Author. He decides a good beginning may be in the recording of the Anglish History on the islands. His efforts are recorded only to be followed with derision and correction by the narrator, “He retold the story [of The Rebellion]–even though it was, at best, insipid palaver, and mostly a pack of lies from start to finish” (88). You can guess which tradition the story favors (even though it is written and bound). Fortunately Philip has his epiphany.

The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap makes a strong case for the importance of Story and the necessity for Stories to be exchanged between individuals and peoples. They have a transformative power. They provide insight and perspective. They can be unifying. Stories, even those in songs, can become interchangeable, shared personal experiences–owned by everyone and no one.

As [Snowcap] sang, she once again wondered who the singer in the meadow had been and from where the song had come. Somehow the words were melding with a song her mother had taught her. They weren’t quite right anymore. […] Snowcap kept singing the songs over and over, weaving them together, until they finally became one song (175).

Writing a story about story is a tricky thing, often dangerous, and seemingly unavoidable to many (how many novels have an author or dabbler or journalist in the leading role?). I am not sure about the results of the exploration in Bouwman’s novel. What evidence is necessary to validate one story over another if ever they happen to contradict? Truth in numbers? Truth in intuitive human essences?… It is a children’s book, L.

There is the Fantasy that keeps this from a historical fiction. Verified by the “Afterword: Author Note on History”, “Tathenland does not exist on any map, nor are there any written histories of it” (266). Its themes have a strong ring of familiarity just the same.  The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap is a tale; a tale with its prerogative, “Everyone can transform, everyone can change. Everyone” (265). And like Snowcap we know “that these tales (like many stories) might be somewhat exaggerated, but she also firmly believed that they were founded on nuggets of truth” (94). Of course, what is truth and the extent of any exaggeration is challenged by magical stories that are less exaggerated than first imagined (the pups, the ravisher and the maiden). Just as the praise for this novel was less exaggerated than first imagined (I mean intoning the cult brilliance of The Princess Bride?), but Bouwman’s The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap really is “a richly imagined story by a remarkable new author.”

"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales


394237Horns & Wrinkles by Joseph Helgerson

Illustrations by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

357 pages of a 7.59×5.50x.56 in. book.

I have a list of Authors of whom I try to keep track. A similar list of Illustrators is fairly non-existent. Reading more and more comics, I try to keep track of Artists, and I was better at minding names when the daughter was still in picture books all the time. I might should make a list.

Yes, I am aware that just because the Illustrations are good this does not mean the story is, and vice versa.   But it could be useful in making an unexpected find. And then there is the fact that I cover shop anyway. A list could add efficiency to my browsing.

I am going to start with Nicoletta Ceccoli. I am two for two with this Illustrator. When I was browsing the Juvenile Fiction aisles, Horns & Wrinkles was set aside in order to catch the eye of a shorter passerby. 3383484I had read P.J. Bracegirdle’s Joy of Spooking: Fiendish Deeds and enjoyed it thoroughly. Perhaps this made Ceccoli’s work more favorable to my mind? but my eye was attuned and I snatched Joseph Helgerson’s Horns & Wrinkles off the shelf.

As for The Joy of Spooking, there is a newer cover to go with the differing cover of the recently released second book in the series. I have to say, I wouldn’t have picked up this series if I’d been approached with these newer covers… I like silhouettes and all. And the colors do call Halloween to mind. (a bit busy though, isn’t it? and not nearly as creepy–or am I pouting a bit?)

We shall see where this listing of Illustrators takes me, but I already spied a few more beautifully illustrated covers of Ceccoli’s that have intriguing stories attached.

And well, S–do you see? She illustrated an Italo Calvino!!

A Dignity of Dragons: Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts by Jacqueline Ogburn

The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum by Kate Bernheimer.

Here is Nicoletta Ceccoli’s site in which to bask.


I mentioned two for two. I did so much enjoy Horns & Wrinkles. Helgerson writes a charmingly inventive story set along a “stretch of river [that] is a queer old chunk of water” (4). Yep, the story is set along a quaint (?) stretch of the Mississippi river between the Minnesota Bluffs and the Wisconsin Bluffs. There is a map of the area included, and an Afterword with directions to Blue Wing, Minnesota in case you’ve a mind to check out any “rivery” occurrences for yourself.

Claire, our 12 year old narrator and protagonist, encounters all sorts of strange creatures; most of them unpleasant. The most foul beast would be her cousin Duke who is a year younger and a head taller. He likes to bully her, and really, do we feel bad when his relentless bullying gets him trouble–trouble in the form of a slow and painful transformation into a rhinoceros? What is truly problematic is that Duke’s new horn and its perilous consequences affect more than just himself; thus the adventure that ensues.

It is to the storytellers credit to create a bully that we can feel a minutia of compassion for and yet still get to unrepentantly disapprove of his wherewithal. Duke is exasperating without being overly–close, but not quite. The same can be said of the River Trolls with whom Duke becomes friends. They fall just short of too much.

Helgerson writes with all the whimsy and wit of a good fairy tale; and he writes it pretty well. He certainly weaves a nice story that moves along smoothly and unpredictably. I wasn’t sure about the short chapters, but they created occasion for more illustrations (however simple).

I know there are a lot of books out there chock full of magical creatures and plucky protagonists fleshing out their contemporary landscapes with ensorcelled adventures. I found Horns & Wrinkles to be a bit more inventive and amusing than most.