"review" · Children's · comics/graphic novels · fiction · mystery · Picture book · recommend · Tales

{picture/book} rules of summer

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic) 2013.

 “Never break the rules. Especially, if you don’t understand them.”–back cover copy.

Rules of Summer, in its most simplified description, is about two brothers’ summer adventures. The story is told by Shaun Tan so there is the surreal and the incredible wordless impact of his imagery. Fans of Tan’s work should already have the book read or on their radar. If you don’t know Tan (for whatever reason), you may begin here.

“This is what I learned last summer” is how the story begins. And it is fair to assume the voice is that of the younger brother, but as the story progresses there are moments where the elder might have inspired a new rule as well. As it is, each of the double-page spreads “tells of an event and the lesson learned*.” And as the publisher also observes, “By turns, these events become darker and more sinister.”

Like the past tense framing of the story alludes, some rules aren’t realized until after they are broken. We understand how much is left unknown and unspoken and the genius of the book is how much it reflects these notions. There is a very very clever brain behind all the beauty on the page.

I mentioned surreal, and indeed there is a strangeness to the realist settings, but there is also a surreality to the story itself. The dark and the whimsical coincide, the summery tones in the color also have texture, and it opens with a more ominous tone than it closes.

Rules of Summer also opens on the title page with the younger running; you can practically hear him calling out to his elder brother not to leave him behind. His older brother doesn’t leave him behind—which is terribly important to the narrative. The summer ends and the sun is setting outside the darkening room where the boys watch television together and the walls hold drawings that commemorate their adventures.

The books dedication reads “for the little and the big,” which is precisely who it is for. Also, a good book for brothers and for people who have a folkloric imagination.


*Would be amusing to take a double-page spread and try to write a story that would inspire that image.

{images belong to Shaun Tan; read more about the book via Tan’s site, here}


read in participation w/ #Diversiverseamdu150

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

{book} birth stories

30 days of pbDay Twenty-Four: The Baby on the Way 

by Karen English

Illus. Sean Qualls 

Farrar Straus Giroux 2005

the baby on the way1The Baby on the Way was not what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be about a boy who is feeling anxiety about a new baby sibling on the way. And maybe Jamal is and maybe there is a younger sibling on the way, but the book takes a decidedly other track. It is a story a grandmother tells about when she was born in a decidedly different time.

With his grandmother harvesting salad-makings from the rooftop gardens, Jamal suddenly wonders if his grandma was a little girl, or smaller yet, an actual baby. He looks and looks at her, trying to reconcile the differences. As they return to kitchen and have their salads, she tells him about when she was born, the tenth child. The story crosscuts time between kitchen scene and historical past and often places them beside one another with stunning full-page portraits.

the baby on the way021Jamal (and Reader) learn how it was, the traditions, the community. Grandma’s voice is unlike the narrator’s in a pleasing way, but both have a sweet and entertaining way about them.

Grandma’s story has Jamal wondering if he will have a story of his own someday. Grandma tells him he can and that she has his story to give him as well as her own, reminding us that her own story must have been told her. The story inspires further storytelling in Jamal and his grandmother and for the reader and their family.

the baby on the way041

Little wonder at the confidence in both writer and artist to allot text-only pages beside full-length artwork, the voices and illustrations have an understated appeal. This is my first picture book illustrated by Sean Qualls, and I can tell you there will be many more.

The Baby on the Way makes the child a part of something larger. We come to understand that the boy’s place in the story and family will be both unique and shared; like the grandmother’s. All birth stories can hold importance, not just that of the latest arrival, and English acknowledges that these kinds of stories are situated in community. English gives a ‘baby on the way’ story depth and scope, context and legacy, inspiring the reader to lift their eyes from introspection and desire to participate in not just their own specialness, but that of their family’s as well.

Now, if only all children were so blessed to have the storyteller from which The Baby on the Way benefits–and to commission Qualls to do their family portraits.


Multi-cultural author Karen English has been writing children’s books since 1992. […]Many of English’s books focus on multi-racial friendships, feuding friends, resolving differences, and the internal struggles of young females facing a range of controversial issues from discrimination to questioning their own religious beliefs.” (blog for your book bio) English is a Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winning author and a retired elementary school teacher. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

books include: Francie (Farrar Straus Giroux 2002), Nadia’s Hands w/ Jonathan Weiner (Boyds Mills 1999), Nikki and Deja series.

Sean Qualls is an award winning, Brooklyn-based, children’s book illustrator, artist and author. He has illustrated a number of celebrated books for children, including Giant Steps to Change The World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis-Lee, Little Cloud and Lady Wind by Toni Morrison and her son Slade and Before John Was a Jazz Giant, for which he received a Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor. […] Qualls has created illustrations for magazines, newspapers, and advertisements. His work has been shown in galleries in New York and across the country. Sean draws inspiration from an array of influences such as movies, television, childhood memories, aging and decaying surfaces, architecture, old buildings, nature, folk art, fairy tales, Americana, black memorabilia, outsider art, cave paintings, collectibles, African art, golden books, vintage advertisement graphics, psychology, mythology, science fiction, music, and literature. He lives in lives in Brooklyn (where you can find him DJing on occasion) with his wife, illustrator/author Selina Alko and their two children Ginger and Isaiah.

do check out “Seven Questions over Breakfast with Sean Qualls” via Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast 

{images belong to Sean Qualls, text to Karen English}

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

{book} a red knit cap girl to know

30 days of pbDay Twenty-Three:

Red Knit Cap Girl and Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue 

by Naoko Stoop 

Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown and Co 2012 and 2013 respectively

red knit cap girl cover

I would start with “charming story,” but what captures my attention is the medium in which Naoko Stoop illustrates Red Knit Cap Girl: Acrylic, ink, and pencil on plywood. The gradation of colors catch in the grain creating an intriguing texture. The brushwork of the moon’s face is just lovely on plywood. The lanterns are pretty sweet, too.  Not every page bears a full-wash of color, but Stoop frames out a page or two, to striking effect.


Red Knit Cap Girl would like to speak to the Moon and wonders how to find her. She learns that Moon with come close, so Red Knit Cap Girl and friends dream up of ways to attract Moon’s notice. They create lanterns, sing songs, but cannot find her. Stories that reward problem-solving are rarely so understated and cute. The animal friends are really adorable. Cute and wise is even more rare.

The Moon smiles and says, “You have made it dark enough to see me and quiet enough to hear me.” For all the light and activity, there is a benefit to darkness and silence, to whispers and listening. Welcome to your next bedtime story.

red knit cap girl to the rescue cover

Stoop returns with her adorable Red Knit Cap Girl and animal friends—and paper cuts. The text is simpler as the illustrations create most of the narrative. And I must say the storm at sea is gorgeous in interpretation. The story is magical, flying with paper gliders, sailing in a paper boat, making new friends and helping them find their way before returning home.

red kcg2-10

red knit cap girl to the rescue page

The background colors are stronger of hue. The blues and greens are really beautiful. The illustrations are straightforward, calm and they make me think of a folk art version of something Jeffers would do, though with less clever humor. That Stoop carries off adventure stories without the impulse for high-energy is impressive and incredibly appealing.

I’m looking forward to Red Knit Cap Girl and The Reading Tree (2014).


Naoko Stoop’s love of drawing began when she was a young child growing up in Japan. She was educated at Keio University in Tokyo and New York School of Interior Design in New York. Naoko now lives and paints in Brooklyn, New York.” She “uses found materials including plywood and brown paper bags as her canvas. She has shown her work in a variety of galleries and stores in New York and hopes that, through her artwork, she can inspires the child within everyone. –jacket copy

Red Knit Cap Girl is her first picture book. She has also illustrated: All Creatures Great and Small (Board Book), Sterling Children’s Books 2012; Noah’s Ark, illus. for Susan Collins Thomas (Sterling 2013); Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree (2014)

“I walk around in my neighborhood with a sketchbook. And I meditate in my studio to be present. I’m trying to bring out the five-year old in people through my artwork. Because I believe that is the last moment before children start learning how complicated the world is, and that was when I once stopped drawing. It took me decades to come back to myself. Now? Here I am drawing everyday!” –(bio) 

{images/text belongs to Naoko Stoop}


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

{book} lines

30 days of pbDay Twenty-One: The Line 

by Paula Bossio 

Kids Can Press 2013 (first publ 2011)

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

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

line Paginas42

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

LineThe_2333_preview (dragged)small

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


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

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

{images belong to Paula Bossio}


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

{book} excused

30 days of pbI had thought to save Excuses, Excuses by Anushka Ravishankar for another time, having already shared two of her picture books this month. It suddenly seems apt as I’ve dropped off the map for the long weekend. I am also going to argue that this provides the opportunity to not only continue to revel in Ravishankar’s humor, but share another illustrator.

excuses coverDay Twenty: Excuses, Excuses

by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Gabrielle Manglou

Tara Books 2012.

The stories Neel tells as excuse for his departure from intentions are as colorful as Gabrielle Manglou’s illustrations. Neel finds himself at an end of a week’s worth of excuses with the optimism that the next week is a new one; only instead of hoping he will be good and do as he says, we look forward to what excuses he’ll come up with next.

Excuses4Realist images are abstracted in mixed-media collage reflect Anushka Ravishankar’s text wherein Neel’s fancy is pieced among the familiar. Both Ravishankar and Manglou prove themselves poets, entertaining and smart.


Recommended for fans of Judith Voigt and Shel Silverstein.

….would’ve loved to write similarly creative excuses w/ Natalya, but more than that, the illustrations are inspiring.


Anushka Ravishankar a mathematics graduate, has made a name for herself internationally as an Indian children’s writer, with over 10 books of verse, fiction and non-fiction. Her special talent is in the area of nonsense verse, where she brilliantly adapts this difficult genre to Indian English usage, without a false note. Anushka Ravishankar can be said to have pioneered the Indian English nonsense verse form and brought it to international attention. She recently returned from a UK tour with Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, at the Children’s Bookshow.

Gabrielle Manglou was born in 1971 in Reunion Island, where she lives and works. She is a graduate of Graduate Schools of Fine Arts Montepellier and Marseille. A multidisciplinary artist, Manglou focuses on drawing in its original form. His sculptures, videos and installations then arise from the continuity of the creative process. Nourished by its roots carriers Creole imaginary “mesh”, the artist refers in works finely worked a magical world in which humans, animals and plants seem to converse with some glee. Since 2003, Gabrielle is an artist associated with The Magik!, A company that creates theatrical devices combining everyday objects and moving images. (Lerka bio)

{images belong to Gabrielle Manglou}

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

for before facial hair & maybe after…

30 days of pbDay Nineteen: Big Bushy Mustache

by Gary Soto, illus. Joe Cepeda

Knopf Books, 1998

BushyMustacheLesson13When teacher Mrs. Cortez tells the children to choose their costumes for an upcoming Cinco de Mayo reenactment, Ricky knows exactly what he wants to wear: the big bushy mustache. With the mustache, so much like his father’s, maybe no one will say he looks like his mother anymore. And it’s true that people appear to treat him differently as he wears the mustache home from school, wending his way through a diversely populated neighborhood.

big bushy mustache neighborTrouble comes when he loses the mustache, which really wasn’t his to wear outside of the school reenactment–but you get the doubling going on in the story. He was eager to reenact his father. Ricky sits on his father’s lap and tells him his troubles, and the parents greet him the next morning with a surprising solution.

The illustrations contribute to a comic energy that lend the story its child-likeness. The characterizations are engaging and the movement toward the domestic spaces, the arms of the family, is a movement toward the heart of the story where there is no pretending, no disguising, certainly no place for acting.

big bushy mustache page

Big Bushy Mustache is a lot of fun, while dispensing the right amounts of childhood humor and familial tenderness.


recommending...The relationship of the father/son here brought Alvin Ho to mind; so if you are familiar with Lenore Look’s series, Big Bushy Mustache is one to add to reading times, and vice versa.

of note:  In looking for images, I noticed Big Bushy Mustache is often used in the classroom for educational purposes with a side of play. This may or may not excite you. If it doesn’t, remember that Soto & Cepeda are really quite entertaining and forget mention of classroom guides.


Gary Soto, “born April 12, 1952, was raised in Fresno, California. He is the author of eleven poetry collections for adults, most notably New and Selected Poems, a 1995 finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award. His poems have appeared in many literary magazines, including Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly, Poetry International, and Poetry, which has honored him with the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Award and by featuring him in the interview series Poets in Person. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. […] In 1999, he received the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, and the PEN Center West Book Award for Petty Crimes.” (site’s “bio“)

The catalog of his work is impressive and if you plan it right, your child can grow up with his books from picture book to literary journal.

Joe Cepeda “Born and raised in East Los Angeles, Joe’s serpentine road through college began studying engineering at Cornell and finished with a BFA in Illustration from Long beach State. Only months from leaving school, Joe took his wares to New York and secured a book contract with a publisher after his first meeting—he’s been illustrating books ever since. Joe is the award-winning illustrator of more than twenty books for children while continuing to create images for magazines and other publications, as well as keeping an eager eye to ever-evolving landscape of illustration.

“A sought-after public speaker to schools and at conferences, Joe relishes every new opportunity to share his experience and advocate for his craft.”

Check out the video of the Interview on his site’s “biography” page.

{images belong to Joe Cepeda, text to Gary Soto}

Joe is the president of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, SILA. [He] works and lives in southern California with his wife and son.


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

rumor has it

30 days of pbDay EighteenThe Rumor 

By Anushka Ravishankar, Illustrated by Kanyika Kini

Karadi Tales 2009

therumor cover

The villagers in The Rumor are “prosperous and happy, but had nothing much to do most of the time”–so they told tales. In this cautionary tale that plays out like the game ‘telephone,’ what comes out of the mouth of the protagonist literally grows and mutates with greater improbability as the rumor spreads around the countryside.

Of the many cautionary tales to be told to children about rumors, The Rumor is a new favorite. I appreciate how it addresses tale-telling and rumor.


via Karadi Tales Blog
via Karadi Tales Blog

therumorintThe tales told about the feather that the sour old man’s mouth are told in rhyming verse, silly and colorful and absurd. The story that makes it back to the unfriendly neighbor is literally laughable. A level of serious can be drawn out of the story, but on the whole the humor is the most effective teacher. Rumors are ridiculous, unbelievable.  Better situations for tale-swapping can be found.


Anushka Ravishankar a mathematics graduate, has made a name for herself internationally as an Indian children’s writer, with over 10 books of verse, fiction and non-fiction. Her special talent is in the area of nonsense verse, where she brilliantly adapts this difficult genre to Indian English usage, without a false note. Anushka Ravishankar can be said to have pioneered the Indian English nonsense verse form and brought it to international attention. She recently returned from a UK tour with Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, at the Children’s Bookshow.

Kanyika Kini a freelance web designer based in Munich. I graduated in Communication Design from Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore in 2005. When I’m not sketching wireframes, obsessing about a screen or brushing up on the latest web standards, I sometimes take time off to pursue my other interests such as illustration. And when I’m not at my computer, I’m probably hiking in the Alps, teaching Indian dance or in the midst of a culinary experiment.