What would you do for love? Would you give the shirt off your back? All the dimes and nickels in your piggy bank? What about a perfect blueberry muffin baked especially for you by your mom? Would you give it away to the one you love? I’m not talking about any old blueberry muffin. This is a muffin nonpareil. The bluiest blueberry muffin you’ve ever seen.
This is the plot of the newest book by Peter McCarty, an author and illustrator of many fetching children’s picture books. Henry is a cat who is crushing on a rabbit named Chloe. Henry tries to impress her with a variety of physical antics, and she responds by doing a cartwheel. The usual playground stuff. It’s not until snack time do we see the depth of Henry’s crush.
The blueberry muffin in question is a beautiful thing. I picked up the book because I am a fan of McCarty’s work, but even if I hadn’t been biased, his magnificent muffin work would have been enticement enough to purchase the book. Using ink and watercolour, most of the illustrations in Henry in Love incorporate short pen strokes in such multitude the overall effect is both soft and sharp, like a print or an etching. The large format of the book suggests a more expansive set of illustrations, but the pages are left almost entirely blank, with the individual vignettes and characters brilliant pops of colour against the cream paper. And by god, the muffin. That delicious blueberry muffin!
Peter McCarty is a master of tone. His illustrations have a kind of hum, a visual vibration running through, and connecting each pencil mark and paint stroke. In Henry in Love, this ‘hum’ is louder than in his previous books, but not strained. Perfect for an infatuated young cat trying to play it cool.
A more subdued ‘hum’ can be found in Hondo & Fabian (Henry Holt, 2002).
Though nary a blueberry in sight, this is nevertheless my favourite McCarty book, and not just because Fabian bears an uncanny resemblance to my cat Molly:
McCarty uses pencil on watercolour paper to create muted and finely textured illustrations. This technique is well suited to McCarty’s gently humourous story of an adorable dog named Hondo and a mischievous cat named Fabian and their adventures at the beach and at home, respectively.
Every illustration in this book shimmers with a kind of internal light. The picture of Fabian unrolling the toilet paper is wonderfully comical and yet exquisite in detail. From the side by side portraits of Hondo and Fabian on the cover, to the endpapers featuring additional illustrations of the dog and cat, this book is both fabulously designed, and a gorgeous thing to behold.
Henry in Love HarperCollins, 2010 ISBN: 978-0061142888
Hondo & Fabian Henry Holt, 2002 ISBN: 0805063528
For other examples of McCarty’s work, check out his rather infrequently updated website.