• Posted on October 31, 2015
Leo a Ghost Story feature

The Dark Art of Halloween (updated for 2015)

October is but a mere few hours away from November’s hostile takeover and I’ve yet to post reviews of new Halloween books for 2015, mostly because I have only one. I’m sure there are more, but I’ve been bereft in my picture book trolling. Nevertheless, Leo: A Ghost Story is a gooder and I am happy to add it to my list of BOOtiful Halloween confections. And so, I bring you my annual celebration of the macabre, the creepy, and the deliciously twisted in children’s literature. Yes, this is a re-hash of previous Halloween posts and ghosts of Halloween’s past (CLICK on the links for longer reviews):

Leo a Ghost Story cover“Gary, I’m scared!”

This rather amusing statement initiates a series of events in Leo: a Ghost Story (Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson/Chronicle Books) resulting in a young ghost-boy leaving his home and venturing far afield in search of a more welcoming abode. Young Leo is self-entertaining house ghost occupying an old dwelling on the edge of the city. When a new family moves in, his friendly overtures are less than well received. The family calls in a scientist, a clergyman and a psychic to de-ghostify the house, which Leo believes is a waste of money. He knows he is unwanted.

“I have been a house ghost all my life. Maybe I would like being a roaming ghost for a while.”

Leo a Ghost Story city

Leo says farewell to his home and ventures into the city. Judging by his Little Lord Fauntleroy attire, he is about a hundred years old, and the city looks very different to him. He is quickly lost in the bustling urban setting. The first person to ‘see’ Leo is a little girl named Jane, who invites him to play Knights of the Round Table. Jane takes Leo home, where both the girl and her parents assume he is imaginary. When Jane discovers he is a ghost, she’s pretty cool with it. In fact, she’s a pretty cool girl. Her games are imaginative and inclusive, and it’s wonderful to see her calmly accept Leo for who he is – a ghost in need of a friend.

Leo a Ghost Story sidewalk drawings

I am familiar with Mac Barnett of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole fame but had not heard of Christian Robinson until his name started popping up on the internet in gleeful anticipation of Leo: a Ghost Story. A previous winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Josephine: the Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, Robinson’s newest book retains the old-timey simplicity of form but introduces a Leo Ghost Story Leo and Janeminimalist and much bluer palette. The San Francisco-based artist uses acrylic paint and cut out construction paper to create his humourous and playful illustrations. Leo is a blue outline, but no less substantial than the rest of the characters – just a little more see-through. The use of varying shades of blue is a nice way to bring diversity to the page without being overt. Leo: a Ghost Story is also beautiful. The colours, though limited to blue, black, and orange (on the cover), are stark and chilly. A little haunted, but invitingly so. I’m with Jane on this one – I would share mint tea and honey toast anytime with Leo.

My only quibble – the title. Personally, I would have gone with Gary I’m Scared, or I See Blue People

Liniers coverPublished in 2014, the truly scary WHAT THERE IS BEFORE THERE IS ANYTHING THERE by the Argentine cartoonist Liniers. This beautifully illustrated book is wildly funny, and surprisingly disturbing. As a former scaredy-cat kid, I can relate to the lad’s nightmarish visitations when the lights go out. Liniers balances humour with creeptastic (and yet somehow affable) creatures that do nothing but stare at the boy – until the thing that is there before there is anything there arrives. Yikes!

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  • Posted on October 29, 2014
Halloween Greg Couch illustration

The Dark Art of Halloween (updated for 2014)

UPDATED for 2014: Beautiful, chilly, fattening October. Here again, and happily so. Along with the usual waterfall of dead leaves, fun-sized chocolate bars by the bagful, and if the drop in temperature is any indication, snow, I bring you my annual celebration of Halloween books. Yes, this is a re-hash of previous Halloween posts, but for this year~a few gorgeously ghoulish additions for your reading and visual pleasure, along with the ghosts of Halloween’s past (click on the links for longer reviews.)

Liniers coverNew For 2014, the truly scary WHAT THERE IS BEFORE THERE IS ANYTHING THERE by the Argentine cartoonist Liniers. This beautifully illustrated book is wildly funny, and surprisingly disturbing. As a former scaredy-cat kid, I can relate to the boys’ nightmarish visitations when the lights go out. Liniers balances humour with creeptastic (and yet somehow affable) creatures that do nothing but stare at the boy – until the thing that is there before there is anything there arrives. Yikes!

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  • Posted on August 14, 2012

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a bad case of the dog days of summer (and my cat agrees.) Excessive heat, too many fizzy beverages, and the Olympics have dulled my senses. Not sure what the Olympics have to do with it, as I watched very little of the festivities, but even being in the vicinity of sporting events has a somnambulant effect on me. I did watch the opening and closing ceremonies, and as elated as I was to see Mike Oldfield, I was just as disappointed not to see Kate Bush, although they did play a remix of Running Up That Hill while oppressed-looking folks in white leotards stacked boxes. The best part was the stream of live comments on Twitter, which begs the question, what did we do before hashtags? Instant (and international) sarcastic messaging makes me happy to be alive in the 21st century. Thank you Twitter. And now, more from the Tweetosphere…

Although a long-time Trekkie, I am newly addicted to George Takei’s hilarious Facebook site. On August 6th , Mr Sulu linked the first image of Mars transmitted by the Curiosity rover, pictured above. Marvin. I knew it. Follow the adventures of the Curiosity on ‘his’ awesome Twitter feed.

From Gregory Walters, a post about “required” summer reading for children. I especially like his inclusion of Mad Magazine, which was certainly a staple of my childhood (and occasionally adult) summers.

Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has just posted a great interview with author/illustrator Komako Sakai. For a second serving of Sakai, here’s my review of The Snow Day.

After watching  synchronized swimming on the Olympics (which has scarred me for life), I was reminded of this classic from Saturday Night Live with Harry Shearer and Martin Short. This comedy routine is only marginally weirder. Or maybe not…

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  • 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 February 15, 2012
Fantastic Flying Books Of Morris Lessmore

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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  • Posted on December 27, 2011

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

Christmas brunch with the dog-an annual tradition

Whoa…it’s been almost two months since I posted a Picks & Tweets on this blog! Other than a pre-existing case of indolence, I have two fat excuses-I travelled to Sweden (and Norway) in November, and upon my return, was hit smack in my jet-lagged face with Christmas-the great sucker-upper of time (and everything else.) Didn’t even have time to put rapidograph to paper and ink my annual Christmas card (sorry people.) However, now that we are thankfully passed the fever pitch of festive activity, I have collected a few of my favourite tweets from this month, and parts of the last, in one butter tart-induced burst of hyperglycemic energy. I expect to crash at any moment…

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  • Posted on October 29, 2011

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

Just a few days until Halloween, and I still haven’t bought any candy, or at least none I wish to share with miniature ghouls and goblins. The dog, on the other hand, is welcome to whatever falls off my lap. I confess that I’ve been rather busy of late, but I have managed to visit a few of my favourite sites. Here are some highlights from the world wide spiderweb…

A Picture Book Proclamation, signed by the likes of Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. I may not have published any picture books…yet...but this blog is devoted to, and in celebration of the principles outlined in this manifesto. I couldn’t have said it better, or at least as succinctly, although I have been accused of soapboxing it every now and then. Nice to see folks standing up for art. Hurray!

Speaking of Jon Klassen, Zoe at Playing By the Book takes on I Want My Hat Back in an interesting review which goes against the tide of praise washing over this witty and beautifully drawn picture book. The dry wit may leave some kids cold. Good point. Conversely, the dry wit leaves this sarcastic old(ish) gal all warm and cozy. Who’s right? Well, there is no right and wrong, just individual preferences, and as with the above noted proclamation, I’m just very happy to see people discussing picture books. Good picture books.

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  • Posted on October 12, 2011

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

Gorey's Black Spider (courtesy 50 Watts)

An entire month since I last posted a Picks and Tweets? For shame. No excuse, other than the usual craziness that is synonymous with September (in my day-job world), which is somewhat alleviated a month later by the arrival of Halloween candy on store shelves. There are goodies everywhere, and many, many empty wrappers, but it is the non-chocolate variety of which I speak. Where to start? Well, how about with some well-deserved accolades?

Just announced…Migrant, Along a Long Road & Ten Birds are among the nominees for the 2011 Governor General’s Award. All three have been reviewed in this blog, and all three are very deserving. Congratulations to the illustrators, authors, and publishers. Also, I Know Here, written by Laurel Croza and illustrated by Matt James, has won the Marilyn Ballie Award. Congrats all around.

One of several interesting articles from The Guardian: Maurice Sendak ‘I refuse to lie to children’.  Yes, he always tells them where the wild things are. Turns out his His favorite story is Outside Over There. Mine too. Falling backwards is one of my many talents.

Really fascinating and disturbing. Loitering in Neverland: the strangeness of Peter Pan. Yes. It’s a strange story, about a strange boy, written by a strange man, co-opted by an even stranger man. Not one of my favourite stories for sure, but there is a very fetching edition of P.Pan with illustrations by Authur Rackham lurking about on my bookshelves. Kind of a palette cleanser. Via the Guardian.

David Bowie’s Space Oddity made into a picture book for kids. Child therapists everywhere rejoice! Seems a strange choice of songs, but the concept, by a Canadian, has proven very popular. My first choice would have been I’m Afraid of Americans, although the Berenstain Bears may have covered this one already. Wired.com

  • Posted on August 19, 2011

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

OK. I’ve been slack in the review department, and I promise that once things calm down in my life (moving), and as of the two days ago, my mouth (stupid tooth), I will ramp up the output on my little blog. Until then, please enjoy these lovely confections from the WWWeberville~ 

 From the New York Times, an all-time favourite: The Snowy Day Celebrates 50 Years. What’s not to love about this sweet, and highly influential little book about the pleasures of winter precipitation?
Another great interview from the impossibly good Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast~this time with with author/illustrator Jon Klassen (Cat’s Night Out, I Want My Hat Back.) Note: I will be reviewing I Want My Hat Back in September.
The London riots-Victorian style~thanks to The Age of Uncertainty blog for consistently bringing the funny to antiquarian bookselling.
Via Brainpicker~NPR’s Top 100 Sci-Fi, Fantasy Books  Great list, and suprisingly I’ve read quite a few of them, but where’s EIFELHEIM by Michael Flynn? It’s quite possibly the best book I’ve read in the last five years, and I would not call myself a major Sci Fi reader. However, I do like books set in Germany, especially medieval Germany. The aliens are just a bonus. 
Another great post from the New York Times: And a Frog Shall Lead Them: The legacy of Jim Henson . At the risk of aging myself, anyone remember the great muppets TV movie from the 70’s called The Frog Prince? I still recall the line ‘Break the ball in the handle of her cane!‘, and the song, ‘Sweetums lay your ugly head, down upon your wretched bed’  (I’ve been known to sing that to my cat on occasion.) Wonderful show, and I wish it would be released in a remastered DVD.

  • Posted on August 11, 2011

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

Oh, the dog days of summer, which for me translates into a whiny sort of sluggishness precluding any activity more strenous than hoisting fruity beverages to my mouth and bending over to turn the fan onto maximum velocity. My heat-induced indolence is compounded by the fact that I am moving at the end of the month, so my posts have become sparse as I attempt to pack away decades worth of bibliophyllic overconsumption. Sure, they look pretty on the shelves, but they are a bitch to pack, and you might as well take out shares in Boxes-R-Us for all the stacks of neatly-packed product lining my hallways. Nevertheless, I do seem to find the time to check in with my favourite Twitter-folk and fellow bloggerists, and here are a few gems from the last couple of weeks~      

The Story of Charlotte’s Web by Michael Sims – review via @guardian. This sounds like a very interesting book, about an interesting man, and some pig. Can’t wait to read it! And speaking of Wilbur, I might have mentioned in a previous post one of my favourite passages about this beloved porker. It’s early in the book and Wilbur is explaining to Templeton his typical day, but it seems to me that Wilbur is practicing a kind of philosophy of life that sounds less porcine and more Zen. The procurement of food (middlings, warm water, apple parings, meat gravy, etc.,) and naps plays a significant role in Wilbur’s daily routine, but so does stillness, and allocating time to watch “flies on the boards, watch bees in the clover, and watch swallows in the air…and to think about “what it was like to be alive…” I aspire to live my life according to the Tao of Wilbur, minus the ‘middlings’, whatever they are.

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