• Posted on May 31, 2012

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

Hmm…I seem to have forgotten about this little feature on my blog. Perhaps ‘forgotten’ is not quite the word. Neglected. It’s a shame really, because it allows me to take stock of all the articles and interesting and/or bewildering and/or freaky bits of information that is the raison d’etre of Twitter. Too many to mention here. Fresh start then, with just a few highlights from the last few weeks.

Starting with…the poop on bodily functions in kids’ books. Trust me…this is an interesting article, and certainly relevant if you work in a bookstore or a library. As a former employee of a bookstore, let me just say that I’d be more inclined to like Walter the Farting Dog if the illustrations were good, which they’re not. But then again, how do you visually compete with a farting dog? It’s not a bad book, it’s quite funny in fact, but what bothers me is that William Kotzwinkle, the author of this treatise on canine gas emissions, is a very fine writer of adult fiction, and once you’ve absorbed Walter and his farts, I would highly recommend that you read The Bear Went Over the Mountain, or any of his other books. But I digress. In my 12-odd years at the bookstore, I don’t recall any customer, young or old, being offended by this book, or Good Families Don’t, or The Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business (which has some rather gorgeous illustrations by Wolf Erlbruch), but strangely enough, many adults did have trouble asking for How to Shit in the Woods, our most popular (and no doubt, most useful) hiking guide. Without fail, the ‘shit’ was either whispered, or omitted altogether from the recitation of the title. It’s OK people, everybody poops.

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  • Posted on May 28, 2012


I did not intend to write another post about a bugs, but UnBEElievables found me a few days after I purchased The Beetle Book, and well, bees are irresistible. Like beetles (and all bugs), I was scared of these tiny, furry creatures for most of my life, or at least until I started observing and learning about them. However, as in all things, the more you know, the less fear it engenders (tarantulas excepted.) And there is a lot to know about bees~a lot we should know, and a lot that is just fun to know.

In UnBEElievables, Douglas Florian gives us both, along with some truly fetching bee art. In 14 lively poems, Florian introduces us to the intricate and highly structured life of the honeybee. Each poem is accompanied by factual blurbs and the most charming paintings of insects this side of a grade two class. This is not a criticism. The multi-media illustrations are full of smiling bees, and it’s impossible not to respond in kind while flipping the pages of this book. Even the super cool, sideways cap-wearing bees of Drone (“Brother! Yo, Brother! Bee-have in your hive!…”) are sporting grins. This is a good thing, as it’s important to see apis mellifera as affable, hard-working, and life-enriching contributors to our world. Indeed, viewed through Florian’s nimble and mischievous imagination, UnBEElievables will make you want to run out and beefriend a bee. Just don’t look for the hats. I’m pretty sure he made that up.

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  • Posted on May 08, 2012


I have late adult-onset beetle fever. Actually, it is the weevil (with their admirable snouts) who really rock my boat, but any beetle will do. I used to be scared of beetles, bees, and buggery of any sort, but now I am pleased to report that I live in amiable companionship with all insects. Must be the walking. After 17 years of tramping around the ravines and trails of my city, I’ve learned to be at home with the tiny lives that populate the world in numbers far greater than human.

As a sometime illustrator, bugs (as a subject matter) are about as good as it gets, and I believe Steve Jenkins would agree. In The Beetle Book, Jenkins is clearly besotted with all one million of the species, 650,000 of which have yet to be named. According to Jenkins, if you lined up every kind of plant and animal on earth, “…one in every four will be a beetle.” That’s a lot of beetles, and while only a few if these (comparatively speaking) are included in The Beetle Book, the variation in size, colour and design is truly remarkable. And in Jenkins hands, these little, and sometimes not so little guys are works of art. Works of art with antennae. Hey, one man’s antennae is another man’s haystack. Step aside, Mr Monet.

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  • Posted on April 29, 2012

Ay Caramba

My cat has a few skills. She is a master of food procurement, especially the hunting and gathering of fish-flavoured snacks. The white expanse of her impressive belly absorbs the heat of the sun, keeping the house cool in summer. The vibrational pitch of her purrs make fly swatters and wasp repellants entirely unnessary.

Nevertheless, in spite of her talents (and pretty face), my cat cannot fly-a fate shared by Caramba, the star of Marie-Louise Gay’s Caramba and Henry, the second in her series of picture books about a plump, flightless cat. In Caramba’s world, all cats can fly. They are also very colourfully attired, but then…every creature in Marie-Louise Gay’s impressive list of publications, feline or otherwise, sports a crayola-hued pair of trousers, or some other equally bright fashion accessory. And that’s just the clothing. The story is important, and so are the characterizations, but first…always first…is the glorious application of paint to paper. Flying cats are just the bonus.

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  • Posted on April 11, 2012

Held Up By Trees

Another book by Jon Klassen. This time, it is Pulitzer Prize winning poet Ted Kooser providing the words, but visually, House Held Up by Trees is classic Klassen. The 60’s flavoured, flat-toned illustrative style is reminiscent of the much-lauded I Want My Hat Back (minus the bear), while the story is firmly planted in the urban, or suburban, experience. Conveniently, the subject matter is apropos to my previous post on the apparent abandonment of nature and natural imagery in picture books. In a House Held Up By Trees, people do indeed abandon nature (although the illustrations remain gloriously tree-infused), but the great thing about this book, and about nature in general~it finds a way. Trees find a way. Life, in all its exuberance, finds a way, and Kooser & Klassen find a way to make this heroic story of nature exerting itself a stirring, beautiful thing.

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  • Posted on April 03, 2012

Nurturing Nature

This blog is exclusively for the review of new and older picture books, and yet I feel compelled to comment on an article I read a few weeks ago on the interwebs. It’s not for lack of opinions on other topics, but the findings in this study seemed contrary to my observations as a former bookseller and as a long-time collector of picture books. One proviso: I am fairly focused in my picture book predilections. It’s all about the illustration, in other words, although to be fair, great writing usually goes hand in hand with great art. Also, up to this point I had not made particular note of setting, at least within a sociological context. As a result, there is a lot of stuff I simply don’t see, because the visuals of most books do not resonate (for me.) It is therefore possible, and perhaps probable, that I’ve missed patterns and trends in my multi-national, multi-genre search for illustration excellence. Trust me, it wouldn’t be the first time a trend has passed me by…

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  • Posted on March 25, 2012

Materialism & the Magpie

I love magpies. They’re my favourite bird, which is a good thing because my northern city is teeming with these sturdy, yet beautiful corvids. Magpies overwinter with us, and their almost tropical plumage is often the only colour in our blanched landscape. Like their human companions, magpies are omnivores. They are not picky where dinner originates, be it a robin’s nest, a peanut from my feeder, or some greasy fries in a discarded McDonald’s bag. Again, like us, they love stuff. All stuff. And they will beg, borrow and steal to get it.

More, by I.C. Springman with illustrations by Brian Lies, is the story of one such acquisitive magpie.

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  • Posted on March 18, 2012

Old Coyote

Old Coyote had me with the cover, surely one of the most poignant, and beautifully observed illustrations of an animal I’ve ever seen. It’s in the eyes; heavy with sleep, closing in on one world, peaceful. They are like my 17 year old cat’s eyes, no longer round with anticipation, but tired and soft, resonant of a life lived, perhaps a life that is close to the end. I could not help but think of her as I read Old Coyote. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure she would not appreciate being compared to an old dog. Not even a little bit.

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  • Posted on February 26, 2012

A House in the Woods

At some point during winter, when the landscape is daubed in grey and Spring is still in the abstract, I turn to the golf channel, not because I have a fondness for rich, white men (or at least not the married ones), but because I crave the green. And when the inevitable boredom hits (approximately 15 minutes in), I turn to picture books- a dose of bibliotherapy to soothe my seasonal affective disordered brain. Of course, this only works with the really colourful books, such as A House in the Woods by Inga Moore. The snow is piling up in drifts outside, but it doesn’t matter. I am following moose, bear, and two little pigs through an autumnal wood as they gather building materials for their project, a cozy house where all four will eventually live. The illustrations are so vibrant, I can almost smell the spotted mushrooms, and the thick undergrowth of the forest. Say what you want about golf, other than the green of the grass, it just doesn’t have the sensual impact of a great picture book.

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  • Posted on February 15, 2012

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

The best thing about February is that it’s a short month. Not as short as it could be (I’m talking to you day 29), but still brief enough to delude myself into thinking spring is just around the corner. It’s not, but I’m fully prepared to live with my delusions awhile longer, or at least until the Easter Bunny makes his annual appearance. Contributing mightily to the percentage of sane-like particles in my brain is the daily, sometimes hourly, occasionally minute to minute forays into the wonderful world of the interwebs. And chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

Along with the caloric content of a large bag of M&M’s, the most thought-provoking thing I read this week is a report that U.S. kids’ books lack a Connection to Nature. Is it different in Canada? Well, we have a maple leaf on our flag and a beaver on our nickel so it’s fair to say the natural world looms large in our national psyche. More on this soon…

Loved this article entitled Do Book Bloggers Really Matter? I guess it depends on what is meant by ‘matter’, but as a former bookseller, I know that advocacy does make a difference. A blog is a pimped up staff selections section, with a spotlight and a megaphone. Instead of hand-selling a book one person at a time, potentially, I have a much bigger audience, which is especially gratifying when I’m writing about a loved but perhaps less well-known title, or one that’s been ‘resting’ quietly in the dark for far too long. Do bloggers matter? I dunno, but books matter.

To William Joyce, storyteller, illustrator extraordinaire, and now Oscar nominee for best animated short~The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore…um, seriously dude. Is there anything you can’t do, cause you sure know how to write and illustrate gorgeous picture books, and…make one of the most beautiful and moving animated movies ever. Ever ever. Download it on iTunes.

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