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

{book} stand tall molly lou melon

DAY 17

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, Illustrated by David Catrow

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001

My friend Sharie recommended Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon and when I found it at the Library I wasn’t sure about the cover. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have picked it up on my own. But then, I can be an idiot sometimes.

Even when the class bully at her new school makes fun of her, Molly remembers what her grandmother told her and feels good about herself.—publisher

My above remark about the cover might suggest that Catrow’s pencil and watercolor illustrations in Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon are just not my cup of tea. While I’m still figuring out why I’m not drawn to the cover*, I can say had I picked it up and flipped open to the first pages I would have brought it home. The color palette Catrow chose is my cup of tea. And I adore his use of proportion. Molly Lou is tiny. But what Catrow also does is not lose her in the greatness of her surroundings. What he also does is not make her so cute as to undermine the tension in the story. It is easy to anticipate trouble for Molly Lou when she goes to her new school. However, at the same time, throughout the story Patty Lovell follows any wince with a “grandma’s right you know!” Catrow does the same. And maybe we do have confidence that everything will be alright with Molly Lou when the inevitable bully surfaces.

There was a small problem and it is sort of embarrassing for me to admit. When the story talks about Molly Lou’s buck teeth, and shared grandma’s advice to “smile big and the world will smile right alongside you,” the next page turn features that “and grandma was right” moment…and I (the world) did not smile right with her. I actually pulled back because there was this huge face staring at me. I didn’t yelp though, not outwardly anyway. I appreciate the effect it was going for, but well, I feel like such a jerk now. Maybe if it had a occurred a few more attributes in.

Anyway, the images have a Dr. Seuss meets Norman Rockwell feel that works. It doesn’t downplay the reality that dealing with traits (physical or otherwise) that people tend to target in unpleasant ways is difficult, but it manages a liveliness that says: I’m not going to let that get me down and neither should you. And the story really does emphasize that our fears in dealing with bullies need not come to fruition. Molly Lou shuts her bully up and shames him good, but not because she is aggressive in return but because she is who she is—quite impressive. She makes friends and I like how when we arrive at the ending a particular new friendship is formed that is not in the least contrived.

As for the last page of the story with that letter to grandma? the perfect punctuation mark.

There more than a few books (picture books on up) that deal with bullying but how to be straightforward with advice without sounding message-y? Write a good narrative like Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon, embrace the straightforward intent and make that advice ring true.

recommendations… this is the kind of book I would recommend reading when a child is young and not yet in school or even dealing with bullies yet. It does not beg for a big talk, just a hmmm, life, whatcha know, having confidence is good, period. When does Molly Lou receive her advice? before the big move and the new school, when she felt normal (in her home and in nature) and had friends. This also a good book for early readers, it has a rhythmic quality; I immediately adopted a more southerly drawl for it.

of note: It has a pretty diverse cast in animal, insect and human critters so kudos there! and I adore Catrow’s sets and settings.

*it really comes down to: I could do without the yellow.

{images belong to David Catrow}

"review" · Children's · fiction · Picture book · poet-related

{book} lulu and the brontosaurus

Do you know an early reader who is a spoiled? A reader, who, like Lulu, is a pain? Not “a pain in the elbow” or “a pain the knee,” but “a pain–a very big pain–in the butt” (3)? Maybe said person isn’t a reader but would be willing to sit down and enjoy a nice story by Judith Viorst and illustrations by Lane Smith? Of course you do not know any such small person. Good thing Lulu and the Brontosaurus isn’t only for them.

Lulu always gets what she wants. Even if it takes screeching till the lightbulbs burst, throwing herself on the floor, kicking her heels, and waving her arms in the air. Until now. For when she asks her parents to give her a brontosaurus for her birthday, they say–for maybe the first time ever–“No!”

So Lulu takes matters into her own hands and finds her self the perfect brontosaurus for a pet. Or is he? I’m not telling. –publisher’s comments.

What I had to appreciate about Lulu is that when she doesn’t get her way, “she takes matters into her own hands.” I can’t help but like independent minds, even when they reside in awful-behaving little children.

Lulu doesn’t have a hissy because she is helpless or incapable. And maybe that is why she truthfully seems so monstrous. It isn’t that she is demanding what she needs and is being denied it. Nor is it that she is asking the impossible and the parents are the only ones with access. (Yes, the brontosaurus is indeed possible in this story.) As she learns by the end of the book (regardless of which ending you choose), there are other means of finding what it is you want–because it isn’t the wanting that is bad, it is the way in which you ask for it. If one really wants something, perhaps they should consider more acceptable ways to go about it. Being polite, and offering gifts in trade (bribery) may be good options. Lulu would teach diplomacy.

Lulu also speaks to entitlement. Is what Lulu wants a bad thing? She wants a brontosaurus for a pet. Yes, impractical, but bad? “A pet is a very good thing” (52). Even the brontosaurus agrees. Of course, there is some miscommunication (of yet another form). Who gets to decide who the pet (read subordinate) is here? Why should the brontosaurus be the pet, why not Lulu as the pet? Which is a funny idea, especially in light of what we’ve seen Lulu do this far into the story: She defied her parents, squeezed a snake very hard, hit a tiger on the head with her suitcase, and stomped on a bear’s foot making him limp away. She would disrespect her parents, leave home, sing loudly and disturb the animals resting while she goes “tromping” through the forest, how would this giant mythic beast make Lulu into a pet? When it seems impossible that Lulu will be able to change, the impossible happens. She learns to empathize. She learns to regret her actions. And the epiphanies do not come easy nor out of character.

Judith Viorst (of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) is a poet and she implements her craft in Lulu. Lulu has her catchy songs, and the text has a nice read-aloud quality. Viorst also plays to another of her strengths, defiance. The story is hardly predictable, and while imparting a few wise messages, she would share it for the child’s sake, not the parents’. Really, the only heroic figure is the brontosaurus, who is noticeably more childlike and Lulu-like, than elderly and sage.

The narrator admits to taking liberties with the story and inserts funny parantheticals along the way. And pretty much immediately, the narrator reflects an irreverence, defying institutional dictates–like paleontologists’ (right) decision to rename the brontosaurus as apatosaurus. If you don’t mind the narrator’s willfulness then proceed and experience it some more–the blame is on the reader, they were given an out. The narrator, though unspecified, is hardly typical in the way one ending after another is discarded in favor of something a bit more suitable. As the narrator would engage the reader in the story-telling process, the multiple endings are hardly surprising, nor is the narrator’s encouragement for them to pick the one they like. There is something co-conspiratorial about the whole book.

Lane Smith (illustrator ofThe Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales) translates the sassy Lulu into an irrepressible figure who, even when small still dominates the page. She never looks helpless for long–because, well, she isn’t. He really complements the text. I dig his use of stripes, circles, and sharp angles. And the pencil on pastel paper creates a nice texture to the black/white images. The divider pages (as seen above) are a nice green that bridges mad-house walls and nature’s forests. The juxtaposition/sequences of classical elements with the non-traditional is wondermous.

Viorst, Lane, and Lulu play with what is expected and the unsuspecting. I would encourage anyone to play along.


recommendations: early-young readers and non-readers. Lulu is usually found in Juvenile Fiction, where parents of pre-schoolers should be browsing anyway. For people who like their independent-minded children to remain so and yet still have manners and empathy. For story-tellers and lovers of the ridiculous and smart.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith

Atheneum (Simon&Schuster), 2010; hardcover,  115 pages. [I own this one.]

{images: all are illustrated by Lane Smith: (top) p 24-25 via “Lane Smith’s Art” blog; (middle) p 46-47, 30-31 via Simon & Schuster; (bottom) the cover}

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

{illustrator} david small


It has been a while since I highlighted an illustrator and that is just what I am going to do.

Do you follow “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast?” I do. They deal primarily with illustrated books and their illustrators and David Small was being talked about the other week, February 7th. Jules was looking at the recently released Dial picture book One Cool Friend written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by Small. You may remember that David Small wrote and illustrated the graphic memoir Stitches (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009). I reviewed it. I decided to check out more of his picture book work.


A bit about David Small, in snips from his site’s biography page:

“David Small was born and raised in Detroit. In school he became known as “the kid who could draw good,” but David never considered a career in art because it was so easy for him.” [Eventually, and fortunately, a friend convinced him to pursue an art career anyway.] “After getting his MFA at the Yale Graduate School of Art, David taught art for many years on the college level, ran a film series and made satirical sketches for campus newspapers. Approaching tenure, he wrote and illustrated a picture book, “Eulalie and the Hopping Head”, which he took to New York, pounding the pavements and collecting rejections for a month in the dead of winter. “Eulalie” was published in 1981. Although tenure at the college did not follow, many more picture books did, as well as extensive work for national magazines and newspapers. His drawings appeared regularly in The New Yorker and The New York Times. A learn-as-you-go illustrator, David’s books have been translated into several languages, made into animated films and musicals, and have won many of the top awards accorded to illustration, including the 1997 Caldecott Honor and The Christopher Medal for “The Gardener” written by his wife, Sarah Stewart, and the 2001 Caldecott Medal for “So, You Want To Be President?” by Judith St. George. To date he has illustrated over 40 picture books.” The “date” being concurrent with his working on Stitches.

image from The Library by Sarah Stewart.

I picked up three picture books of which David Small is the illustrator from the Library; too small a sampling compared to his proliferation, I know; but I would share them with you just the same.

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety––your preferred one?

David: I use a sheet of good imported rag paper. My line work is done with brush & ink, sometimes a nib pen. I add watercolor washes with touches of pastel chalk.

That Book Woman by Heather Henson (Atheneum, 2008)

 That Book Woman is inspired by The Pack Horse Library Project, a 1930s WPA carried out in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. It is a precursor of the Book Mobile, where (primarily) women rode horses packed with books and kept routes throughout the mountains distributing books to the rural homesteads to encourage and improve literacy.

Cal is not the readin’ type. Living way high up in the Appalachian Mountains, he’d rather help Pap plow or go out after wandering sheep than try some book learning. Nope. Cal does not want to sit stoney-still reading some chicken scratch. But that Book Woman keeps coming just the same. She comes in the rain. She comes in the snow. She comes right up the side of the mountain, and Cal knows that’s not easy riding. And all just to lend his sister some books. Why, that woman must be plain foolish — or is she braver than he ever thought?-publisher’s comments

Cal moves from resentment to an understanding of why his sister spends so much time in a book and why his (multi-generational) family outright encourages it. The story values both work and education, indeed, what shows a greater determination and passion in their work than the Pack Horse Librarians. “I year to know what makes that Book woman risk catching cold, or worse,” Cal says. Both the Librarian’s and Cal’s risk-taking find reward.


Princess Says Goodnight by Naomi Howland (HarperCollins, 2010)

When a little girl pretends she’s a real princess, her imagination soars and her bedtime routine is transformed into a majestic affair. While practicing curtsies on her way to bed, she gets the royal treatment: chocolate cream Éclairs, glass slippers, ladies-in-waiting, a tiara—even a bubble bath with a special fluffy towel to dry her toes. Being a princess is so much fun! But at bedtime, there’s one thing a little girl—or a princess—always gets: a kiss before saying goodnight.-publisher’s comments

Princess Says Goodnight imagines how it must look for a princess would say goodnight aka go to bed, even while teh reader must imagine what actions correlate to the little girl’s saying goodnight.

Princess Says Goodnight is playful, but quiet, not eye-popping candy-colored or sparkly energy. The girl is vibrant sure, but the wash of colors and movement is softened.  The text is rhythmic, the words are lulling. It is a good bedtime book. And one that is good for a sibling who likes to have their special time in play and intimacy with their parents. This is a really nice tuck-in-bed book that shouldn’t exhaust with re-reading even while it should prove useful for those who desire a cooperative and calming bedtime.

Naomi Howland:Your style is so fluid; nothing looks labored at all. Do you do a lot of preliminary drawings first?

David Small: It’s sleight of hand! All illustrators aim for the Effortless Look, but even someone whose work is as loose as Quentin Blake has admitted publicly to laboring over and throwing away a lot of pictures. (When I read that I felt a very brotherly feeling for Mr. Blake, and grateful to him as well, for admitting that he doesn’t just toss things off.)

interview between author/illustration from Naomi Howland’s site

Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen (Philomel, 2010).

 Elsie is a city girl. She loves the noise of the cobbled streets of Boston. But when her mother dies and her father moves them to the faraway prairies of Nebraska, Elsie hears only the silence, and she feels alone in the wide sea of grass. Her only comfort is her canary, Timmy Tune. But when Timmy flies out the window, Elsie is forced to run after him, into the tall grass of the prairie, where she’s finally able to hear the voice of the prairie-beautiful and noisy- and she begins to feel at home. Jane Yolen and David Small create a remarkable, poetic, vividly rendered book about finding one’s place in the world.–publisher’s comments.

 [Editor Patricia Gauch] also got one of her award-winning illustrators, David Small—an artist who I admired greatly and enjoyed personally—to do the illlustration. He also lies in that area and his wife has made a spectacular “prairie garden.”–Jane Yolen on writing/publishing Elsie’s Bird.

Elsie’s Bird focuses on the power of sound and song, as well as its value to many. It is very much about “finding one’s place in the world.” Like a caged bird may sing, Elsie could, too, but she was limited and she needed to see that. I adore the movements captured behind or around Elsie, sound making people and objects and actions. With Small’s fluid use of color and sketched-line–very animated, perfectly applied.

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

ruby’s wish & pecan pie baby

Does it feel like you have stumbled upon a Sophie Blackall fan site?!  It really is that I am just now getting her and Jacqueline Woodson’s Pecan Pie Baby from the Request/Hold at the Library. And so I picked up Ruby’s Wish while there. And what good timing as Pecan Pie Baby has recently received a 2011 Boston Globe–Horn Book honor for Picture Book. See Horn Book’s “5 Questions for Sophie Blackall” here, where they talk about her newly Illustrated and Written picture book Are You Awake? as well as the experience of illustrating Woodson’s book.


Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Chronicle Books, 2002; 36 pages. Hardcover children’s picture book. Ages 4-8.

Ruby is unlike most little girls in old China. Instead of aspiring to get married, Ruby is determined to attend university when she grows up, just like the boys in her family. Based upon the inspirational story of the author’s grandmother and accompanied by richly detailed illustrations, Ruby’s Wish is an engaging portrait of a young girl who strives for more and a family who rewards her hard work and courage. ~publisher’s comments.

Ruby is her nickname based on the fact that she loves the color red and insists on wearing red in some form, regardless of season or occasion. Her naming also tells us a good deal about how determined and focused a young lady the story’s protagonist is, and how accommodating (and unusual) a family she comes from—two necessary ingredients to Ruby’s success story. Ruby is gifted with opportunities, all she needs to do is to have the courage to pursue her desires—which is no small thing.

Ruby’s Wish is educational culturally, inspiring, and just so lovely to look upon.

I checked Ruby’s Wish from the Library based on fact that Sophie Blackall illustrated it. Her work is as pleasurable and highly accessible as ever, utilizing soft but bold colors and textures. Her compositions are a nice companion to the text, a series of portraits of Ruby as she learns and grows up to the final piece, a red folding picture frame with an illustrated young Ruby in sepia on the left and a true photograph of the author’s grandmother on the right.

“So that’s how Ruby got her wish. It’s a true story. And how do I know this? Well, Ruby is my grandmother, and every day she still wears a little red.”

The young reader/listener will be charmed to find that Ruby’s Wish is someone’s true story. Seems a brilliant opportunity to dust off the family stories; the sweet and serious and inspiring. If you’ve a mind, have some colored pencils on hand. We could do with more shared stories of Shirin Yim Bridge’s ilk, as well as illustrators of Sophie Blackall’s.


Pecan Pie Baby By Jacqueline Woodson, Illus. Sophie Blackall

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010; Hardcover, children’s picture book, 32 pages.

“Mama is pregnant with what soon-to-be sibling Gia refers to as ‘the ding-dang baby.’ Among the indignities she suffers: the in utero baby is already copying Gia’s love of pecan pie–a culinary obsession that Gia thought she could share with Mama alone. ‘So that baby’s just being a copycat!’ gripes Gia. Newbery Honor author Woodson (Show Way) doesn’t have new insights into displacement fears: the usual anxieties, oblivious relatives, and reassurances populate her story. But what she does have to say still resonates: ‘I know what I’m going to miss the most,’ Gia complains after an outburst at Thanksgiving dinner. ‘My whole, whole life.’

Blackall’s (Big Red Lollipop) stylized ink and watercolor images, with their muted colors and slightly flattened perspectives, have a strong sense of style and calming warmth, as in a scene where Gia sits on the stoop, special memories of her mother spooling outward in squiggly thought bubbles. Gia may have moments when she feels ‘real, real, real alone,’ but readers will sense that Mama’s love endures–and that Gia is going to be a very cool older sister. Ages 5 — 8. (Oct.)” Publishers Weekly

Looking for a picture book that will likely reflect your world? Jacqueline Woodson’s Pecan Pie Baby is diversely populated and holds all the angst of including yet another new life to an already settled and satisfying one. This also may be a good one for a family introducing a new baby and looking to reassure the already born.

The reasons for picture books like these are never subtle when sitting down with the soon-to-be older sibling. And Publisher’s Weekly is correct in observing that “Woodson (Show Way) doesn’t have new insights into displacement fears: the usual anxieties, oblivious relatives, and reassurances populate her story.” However, there is a level of genuine anxiety conveyed in Pecan Pie Baby, in the words and in the images, and in a protagonist Gia who isn’t portrayed as some bratty only child. She is a character with whom we can empathize (whether an elder sibling or no); which is important because the reassurance comes from the  bond between the mother and child, not because the child is being foolish or inappropriate; although when things get out of hand she is sent to her room–dejected, but not rejected as mom comes to have a chat. Gia’s feelings are validated, but not left there, gently persuaded into thinking that maybe this “ding dang baby” won’t be so bad an intrusion; and maybe she hasn’t been ignored or forgotten. Gia and her mother’s relationship is reaffirmed, and the communication of feelings turned the lock. Pecan Pie Baby is a lovely revelation of how one can have these feelings, and they may be understandable, but we need to talk about them, we need to reaffirm our relationships and be generous of spirit with one another. Snuggling together over a book is just one venue; sharing a pie is another.

I always appreciate the colors, patterns, and textures Blackall uses. I adore this room, though. It isn’t fussy or princessy. There is an octopus stuffy on the shelf next to an ant farm. The stuffy with a bow on the bed has fangs. The yo-yo on the bureau; and the book left mid-reading… Gia is my kind of girl.

What is notably absent is a father, designing a very snug focus, creating a greater reliance on the relationship between mother and daughter, disallowing a response of “Well, at least Daddy will still be all mine!” or further complicating an otherwise straightforward story. If the baby makes three, then the baby creates the triangle. Perhaps this allows for an opportunity to display a different family dynamic, more the urban tribe than the nuclear family working on their 2.5 kids, or their second marriage/second child. Uncles come over to put the crib together. The cousins aren’t replicas lined up along the dinner table at Thanksgiving. Gia is part of a family that makes room for one more, you have every confidence that Gia will come ’round once reassured of her own place.

I promise, the book has text. This two page illustration shows text in speech bubbles, each child shouting their line of a jump rope rhythm after it is suggested they play “Mama’s Having a Baby.” Gia’s rhyme to accompany the girl’s line before her (which is “Wrap it up in toilet paper.”) “Send it down the escalator.” Her peers are marvelously understanding of what Gia is going through.


note: many of Pecan Pie Baby‘s images were found via “7 Impossible Things before Breakfast” and here is their review/interview on said book. The blog’s reference to Ruby’s Wish amid an interview with Blackall, here.

Do enjoy Lisa Rojany Buccieri’s wonderfully written review of Pecan Pie Baby in New York Journal of Books (October 28, 2010): wherein she writes:

[Gia’s] sent to her room where the talented illustrator, Sophie Blackall offers up the best presentation depicting solitary suffering that I have ever seen. On one side of the spread is the text, spare and telling: “Upstairs, I got that teary, choky feeling. And even though there were a whole lot of people in my house, I felt real, real, real alone.”

On the other side of the spread is a bird’s eyeview of the little girl in her bedroom, on her bed, curled up, in the corner of the room, an edge of the baby’s assembled crib exposed—so that we know her space is being invaded as well—and a tree with leafless branches visible outside the window adding pathos to the solitary, cold feeling of her loneliness.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of humor in the book, and it ends well. But here, in Pecan Pie Baby, the most important contribution Ms. Woodson has made to children’s literature is to depict a child’s emotion in all its true depth and realness.

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 · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend

a nice choice

Blackout written and illustrated by John Rocco

Disney/Hyperion Books, 2011. 40 pages, hardcover. ages 4-8.

John Rocco is an Illustrator to follow. (here is my previous post on Rocco). I put a request in for his latest book at the Library and it finally came in.

“Rocco’s sublime account of a city blackout reveals a bittersweet truth: it sometimes takes a crisis to bring a family together. In a series of graphic novel — style panels, a small child tries to convince family members to play a board game one hot summer night, but they’re all too busy. When the lights go out, though, the neighborhood comes alive and the whole family drifts up to the roof to look at the stars: ‘It was a block party in the sky.’ Rocco (Fu Finds the Way) gets everything right: the father’s pained, sheepish smile when he says he has no time to play; the velvety dark and glowing candlelight of the blackout (as well as the sense of magic that can accompany one); and the final solution to the problem of a too-busy family (a private blackout, courtesy of a light switch). The high-energy visuals that characterize Rocco’s other work get dialed back a little. In the most poignant spread, the family sits on the stoop, eating ice cream: ‘And no one was busy at all.’ It’s a rare event these days. Ages 4 — 8. (May)” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

If you are a fan of John Rocco’s work, or have yet to become one, Blackout is lovely book to check out, regardless of your age. However, it is one of those picture books to be read to or with someone, because it is all about spending time together. The most tragic image would be the 6-year-old sitting on the couch reading this while their family members are plugged-in elsewhere, too busy or distracted.

I have mentioned before that I am especially drawn to John Rocco’s use of color, depth, and the energy in the drawings. Publisher’s Weekly notes that the usual “high-energy visuals get dialed back a little,” and it does, it is quieter—yet unmistakable. Linger on a page long enough and the illustrations you already swore were breathing begin to move. Your imagination adds dimension to the page in partnership to the illustrators work—as it should be, don’t you think?

Blackout is done more in the style of a graphic novel in movement and format; even the windows of a building become panels. This is exciting for those who are interested in preparing the young one for such shelves; a potential complaint for more traditional picture book readers. The eye is ready to take everything in, make a study of Rocco’s artwork. I think the format works to focus the sequence of the story which is heavily illustrated and it minds the text, spare as it is.

Blackout has incredible relevancy. It is a book about a family getting caught up in their own pursuits, in their individual rooms, in their nuclear home. I like that the setting isn’t a sunshine-inspired jaunt to the park or market where everyone is radiantly garbed and smiling and energetic with Spring. In a book where time spent together as family and/or community is ultimately our choice, the dark is a perfect setting. At an hour where one can be alone or excused to their own devices most easily, a decision to be in company doing family building activities is especially poignant.

This may be a bit of  a stretch, but I would also add that the relationships championed here are the ‘in person’ kind. The mother on the computer could be blogging or chatting via the interwebs, connecting on that level of community. The father cooking could likely have a social end goal in mind. The sister on the phone maintaining her lifeline to a friend. That the boy goes to a video game may have other implications*. Blackout doesn’t want to forget the family with which we are in physical proximity. The nuclear relationships also exist within a greater context. The couple having an intimate candle light dinner on the rooftops is an scenario that can be penetrated by the sounds and images of the neighborhood about them—undisturbed but not isolated. The empty streets now have faces/images of life to go along with it during and after the blackout.

I like that the sense of loneliness on the part of the boy isn’t because he doesn’t have something he could be doing—it isn’t from boredom, or even a lack of potential companionship as the cat is constantly by his side. Whether one is thinking about their own home or community, the idea of being alone is a terrible feeling—made worse when the lights go out.

a few other niceties: a non-homogenized household and neighborhood. the boys long hair. the portrait of Edison on the wall. the silhouettes. the shadow puppets. Rocco’s composition.

Blackout might be a fun one to stay up with the family and do star-gazing, shadow puppets, and board games, and/or candlelight dinners (we suggest pancakes). or in the classroom (sans fire, of course)?

*I am not against video game play, otherwise I would be a monumental hypocrite. and admittedly game play can be networked to other players, and thus social and not merely in the interaction with software generated avatars/constructs.



Do read: Rick Moody’s review for the NY Times, “When New York City went Dark

An interview w/ Rocco: 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast: “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with John Rocco”: (from whence you will recognize the images I–er–borrowed) : I recommend subscribing to ‘7 Imps’ for their interviews alone.

John Rocco’s website, where I found more images. His blog is an excellent way to keep with his process and progress and very busy life.

"review" · Children's · fiction · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · Tales

the secret footprints

The Secret  Footprints by Julia Alvarez

Illustrated by Fabian Negrin

Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

That it was Alvarez caught my eye when the daughter and I were browsing the 398s. I had never heard of ciguapas, and now I am just flat out captivated by the idea of their existence.


As a little girl growing up in the Dominican Republic, I remember hearing stories of the ciguapas. (See-goo-ah-pas.) This tribe of beautiful women live underwater but come out at night to hunt for food. No one has ever been able to track them down because they have a special secret. I’d lie in bed, struggling to stay awake, hoping to spot one. I never did, until I wrote this story about one little-girl ciguapa, Guapita, who almost gives away the special secret by befriending a human boy. The illustrations by the Italian artist, Fabian Negrin, are fabulous. ~Julia Alvarez, here.

In Julia Alvarez’s tale, The Secret Footprints, a fearless young ciguapa, Guapa, has a curious nature that nearly costs her tribe their freedom. “If people find out where we live, they will capture us because we are so beautiful. Doctors will want to put us in cages and study us. We will be forced to live on land” (8). But are all humans so terrible? Her boldness gets her into trouble, but the human boy she’s found interest in proves kind.

I am just going to go ahead and share their secret, because I thought this to be a interesting invention (and it won’t ruin the story). “Their feet were on backward! When they walked on land, they left footprints going in the opposite direction” (3).  No prints are seen rising up out of the sea. An added enchantment is how Julia Alvarez imagines some of the difficulties of having backward feet on land. This is a story that truly captures the imagination.

Those familiar with Ondine, The Little Mermaid, and/or Selkies will be intrigued by the ciguapas, fairytale figures originating in the Dominican Republic.Alvarez adds a letter at the end of the book, “About the Story,” where she talks about growing up with the tale and shares some of the different versions she’s encountered. I love that she includes people’s ideas about where the ciguapas stories come from, but I am even more charmed by the influences ciguapas have had on the author’s life, how they’ve still managed to make it to Vermont, backward feet and all.

“Sometimes I leave my wash out on the line overnight and stick a piece of candy or an apple in the pocket of my pants or jacket, just in case. I know it’s a long way from the Dominican Republic to Vermont, especially if your feet are on backward. But I have to tell you, sometimes that piece of candy or apple is gone from that pocket in the morning. My husband says it could be squirrels or maybe even a raccoon.

I know better.”


to view more of Fabian Negrin’s work. Julia Alvarez’s site.

my review of Tia Lola Learns to Teach.

read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge (V) as well.