• Posted on October 22, 2013
Here Be Monsters swashbuckling

Here Be Monsters

The title of Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene’s new book Here Be Monsters is a play on Here Be Dragons, an admonishment printed in the corners of medieval maps to prevent seafaring types from wandering into uncharted territory. Ascribing evil to the unknown is common enough even today, but back then, it seemed reasonable to personify fear as a fire-breathing dragon. We now know these fears were unfounded. There are no dragons, no monsters. Good news if you’re a pirate, and an island of giant gemstones lay concealed in the murky mist of a faraway, uncharted land. Here be monsters, indeed.

Here Be Monsters coverCaptain Cut-Throat is the ‘meanest mariner to sail the Seven Seas’, guilty of ‘countless crimes of downright dastardliness and despicable dishonesty’, or so the Wanted Dead or Alive poster tells us. The peg-legged, pointy-nosed fox leads a crew of equally unsavoury characters, all of whom are wanted for various crimes, including ‘mean misconduct and monstrous mischief’ (Blue-Bottomed Bart, a mandrill), and ‘reprehensible rudeness and repulsive roguery’ (Quilly Von Squint, a raven), among other alliterative (and hilarious) misdeeds. As befitting a pirate of the highest order, Captain Cut-Throat likes treasure. Loves it in fact, refusing to heed his crew’s misgivings as he sets sail for the mysterious island of gems. Calm seas prevail until the ship enters the mist, where strange noises can be heard. One after the other, the crew plead with the captain, only to be plucked off the ship in spectacular fashion by, in turn, a giant, teeth-baring parrot and a multi-eyed serpent. Thinking his ‘yellow-bellied’ crew have abandoned ship, the captain remains steadfast in his goal, oblivious to what actually transpired on his ship. The bejeweled island emerges out of the mist, and Captain Cut-Throat greedily sets paw and peg on land to claim his reward. And he gets it. Boy, does he get it. These gems don’t just sparkle, they bite.

Continue Reading

  • Posted on October 15, 2013
Young Frank Architect cover detail

Young Frank Architect

“Youth is a quality, not a matter of circumstances.”  Frank Lloyd Wright

So begins Frank Viva’s new book, Young Frank Architect, and this reassuring adage plays out in the inspiring story of passion and artistic vision as embodied by a young boy, his grandfather, and a host of famous architects and designers. Young Frank Architect is also an homage to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, a place I have not yet visited but whose breadth of genius has long been a draw, if an elusive one. With the publication of Young Frank Architect, a trip to MoMA is in order, and though contained within the pages of a picture book, it is no less an adventure.

Young Frank Architect book buildingYoung Frank is a creative soul with a very broad idea of what it means to be an architect. Old Frank, his grandfather, is an actual architect whose views have, perhaps, narrowed over the years. The boy aspires to be like his grandfather in more ways than one, even adopting his straw boater hat and comically round glasses. The grandfather watches his grandson build twisty skyscrapers out of piles of books and a chair of toilet paper rolls, and attempts to educate the boy on the rules of his profession. “I don’t think architects make chairs. And you really can’t sit in this one, can you?”, a statement which only deflates the young boy’s exuberance. Bewildered by his grandson’s unorthodox architectural creations, Old Frank takes the boy to the Museum of Modern Art “…to see the work of some REAL architects.’

Continue Reading

  • Posted on October 01, 2013
DSCF2394

Ghosts

October has arrived, wind-swept and leaf-strewn; a seasonal reminder that it’s time to bone up on my ghosts. Like the would-be spectre dragging a ball and chain in Sonia Goldie and illustrator Marc Boutavant’s newly translated book Ghosts, I am poorly educated in the ectoplasmic sciences. No matter, with the help of this extraordinary (and extrasensory) book, I can now distinguish between the winter-loving ghost who lurks behind curtains drawing pictures on frosted window panes, the soot-covered Chimney Ghost, and of course, the oft-maligned Night Ghost. I’ve much to learn, and many preconceptions that barely scratch the surface of this delightful and diverse society of apparitions.

Ghosts coverOriginally published in 2001 in France, Ghosts is a whimsical introduction to the domestic variety of ghost populating the bedrooms and kitchens of our homes in (apparently) great multitude and variety. Leading the tour is a tiny bear-like ghost named Toasty, and his protege, an old-fashioned fellow from the ‘sheet’ and ‘boo’ era who may or may not be a real ghost. Wishing to dispel the myth that ghosts live only in old castles and haunted houses, Toasty invites his new friend to a party for all the household ghosts, who are introduced one by one. Turns out, we corporeal types are far from alone, and as I’d always suspected, not solely responsible for the mess and mayhem in our homes. There are mischief-makers in our midst.

Continue Reading

  • Posted on September 28, 2013
Mr Tiger Goes Wild

Tiger Goes Tiger

The most rewarding, and the most difficult journey in life is to become who we are. For a lucky few, it’s no journey at all, for others, it takes years if not decades to shed the layers that mask our true selves. There are many pressures to conform, to fit in, and we adapt our personalities in ways which can often feel fraudulent. In Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Peter Brown masks his protagonist in a waistcoat and top hat. He also makes him a tiger; a very proper, and very bored tiger.

Continue Reading

  • Posted on September 14, 2013
Northwest Passage cover

A Land So Wide and Savage

On a hill more than thirty years ago, I first heard the unmistakeable voice of Stan Rogers. It was the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in 1982. As the hot August sun beat down my haltered back, the bearded balladeer’s muscular baritone percussed through the grounds like a drumbeat, tossing flimsy-voiced folksingers in its wake, demanding that we pay attention to the stories of our country, that we be upstanding for the narrative of Canada. And so I stood.

Northwest Passage Stan RogersCanadians love to talk about what it means to be Canadian. That we have yet to reach a consensus is proof that we are a diverse people. Diverse, and indecisive. Still, there is common ground: a national predilection for caffeinated beverages in the name of a deceased hockey player, doughnuts from said deceased hockey player, hockey, snow, and, for a lot of us, the music of Stan Rogers.

I knew him through my music-loving sister, who wept the day he died in 1983 at the age of 33. “Who will sing about us?”, she said. Indeed. Folksingers abound, but few tell stories that enrich a nation’s perception of itself, and even fewer take on the lead-lined pages of a failed northern expedition and turn it into a song that endures. Northwest Passage by Governor General award nominee Matt James is not only a celebration of the Stan Roger’s most famous song, it is also a glimpse into an historical event that still resonates into the 21st century.

Continue Reading

  • Posted on August 30, 2013
Once Upon a Northern Night blue forest

Once Upon a Northern Night

On rare occasions, a picture book comes my way that is so evocative, it feels like a lost memory from childhood, revealing itself page after page. Once Upon a Northern Night is a such a book. Oddly out of time, and yet timeless, Once Upon a Northern Night is a breathsucker, a gust of cold winter air awakening the senses. After several readings, I am still amazed that this glorious book has been in existence for a mere few months, not fifty years. The gentle poetry of Jean Pendziwol has the lilt and reverence of an old bedtime story, the kind without irony or guile. Like Pendziwol’s words, Isabelle Arsenault’s luminous illustrations belong to a bygone era of limited palettes and charmingly stylized imagery. If books have souls, then Once Upon a Northern Night is an old soul.

Continue Reading

  • Posted on August 20, 2013
Little Red Hood

Little Red Hood

Sometimes magnificent little confections appear before me in bookshops. I am powerless to resist, and really, I have no interest in resistance, as my teetering bookshelves can attest. If it’s good, I’ll buy it. Little Red Hood by Marjolaine Leray is such a book. Modest in size and colour (red, white, black), it is the very embodiment of simplicity, and yet Little Red Hood packs a punch in several unexpected ways.

Little Red Hood Wolf looming over girlThe story of the red-hooded waif and the trickster wolf with the insatiable appetite for little girls and grannies is a familiar one, although the resolution varies greatly between the various translations. In the Perreault version, the grandmother outwits the wolf. In Grimm’s Little Red Cap, the wolf is split open by the huntsman. In Bugs Bunny, Little Red Riding Hood is so obnoxious, Bugs and the wolf conspire to end their misery. And so on. Very rarely does the wolf triumph, but then, neither does the girl, other than having her life spared. She is always (with the exception of Bugs) rescued. In Little Red Hood, the girl is her own hero, outwitting the wolf, thus saving her self from his exceptionally long and toothy snout. Commenting on his bad breath, the girl offers the wolf a sweet, but not just any sweet. Suffice to say, there is no end to this girls’ resourcefulness.

Continue Reading

  • Posted on July 09, 2013
Thunderstorm-delivering hay

Stormy Weather

The province I call home is relatively catastrophe-free. Alberta is a land-locked northern city in Canada, not much is visited upon us by way of weather events, other than extreme, nostril-slamming cold and the occasional drought. However, when it hits, it hits big, like ‘Black Friday’ in 1987 when a tornado killed 27 people, or, two weeks ago, a devastating flood, which shut down a major city and most of southern Alberta for days, resulting in loss of life and several billion dollars worth of damage. Weather is unpredictable, and often deadly, but a good thunderstorm is a thing to behold. A thing many people, including myself, enjoy. A thing that would inspire any artist. Well, not just any artist.

Thunderstorm by the great Arthur Geisert is exactly the kind of book I would have loved as a kid, with imagery that would’ve stayed with me into adulthood. It’s in the details; the stuff going on in the corners, the fragments of story waiting for a turn at centre stage. A mid-west farming community in the midst of a stormy afternoon, full of scattering animals, busy humans shuttering down their belongings, and a panoramic landscape wide open to whatever is thrown at it. And pigs. There are always pigs in Geisert’s picture books.

Tornado Touchdown-Thunderstorm

Continue Reading

  • Posted on July 01, 2013
Canadian Flag-Mulidzas-Curtis Wilson

Canada Day

Great illustration does not have a nationality. It can be found anywhere, and this blog is an appreciation of, and a  testimony to, the pervasiveness of excellence. Illustrative genius may not be deep, but it is wide. Arguably, countries have a visual ‘flavour’, a stylistic predilection that shows up on the pages of picture books, but this can be difficult to identify without a thorough knowledge of its artists and writers, and anyway, who cares? Great art is great art. Nevertheless, as a Canadian, my heart thumps a little faster when I write about a homegrown picture book, and I have only scratched the surface of my country’s artistic depth.

Perpetually engaged in defining itself, Canada is a country rich in cultural influences. Personally, I’m OK with a definition that includes William Shatner and Tim Horton’s and excludes any comparison whatsoever tothatplacesouthofthe49thparallel, but others strive for something a little more, oh, I don’t know, comprehensive. What I do know is that a good place to start is with the artists, and apropos to this blog, the illustrators.

Picturing Canada coverTo that end, and in celebration of CANADA DAY on July 1, otherwise known as our 146th birthday, I would like to commend and thank Mulidzas Curtis Wilson for the beautiful Haida-inspired Canadian flag which adorns this post, and, in no particular order, send out this love letter to the Canadian authors and illustrators reviewed in 32 Pages.

Standing high above all is THE BOOK: Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing , or everything you’ve always wanted to know about picture books in Canada, but we’re too reserved/passive/insecure to ask, eh? It’s very, very good. You can tell by the moose and the beaver on the cover.

Continue Reading

  • Posted on June 07, 2013
Mousetronaut

Good Morning Earth

Space does not interest me, unless Captain Kirk is commanding it or aliens are descending from it. There are many reasons, but primarily I blame David Bowie. I heard Space Oddity at a formative age, when my base level of fears was just settling in for a lifetime of anxiety. The idea of ‘floating in a tin can’, no longer tethered to the comforts of fresh fruit and gravity, terrifies me. Good thing the chances of this happening are slim. I’d probably have to redo grade 12 math.

What has caught my attention is the Canadian astronaut and social media star, Chris Hadfield. As commander of the International Space Station from December 21st, 2012 to May 13th, 2013, I was riveted by his Twitter feeds from space. Ironically, while the science of space travel via Hadfield’s comments and video demonstrations have been fascinating, it’s his celebration of Earth that has truly captured my attention. Bored by my growing obsession with all things Hadfieldian, my niece said, ‘space has always been cool Auntie.’ I suppose, but poor old Earth is fraught with buzz-kill issues, especially of late. Urgent environmental concerns have focused attention on the negative: the pollution, the extinctions, the catastrophic weather events. Hadield’s optimism and unfailing enthusiasm has done an amazing thing: showed us what’s right with the world. Stunning photographs of the earth, taken from space, have shifted our perspective, at least for a while. It is a beautiful world.

Continue Reading