• Posted on September 24, 2012
This is Not My Hat little fish

This Is Not My Hat

…and this is not a sequel to I Want My Hat Back, although the parallels are striking, especially as both books are hat-centric larks drenched in the dry humour and exquisite art of Jon Klassen. Not since Andy Warhol walked through the canned goods aisle has an artist squeezed so much out of a single object. Yes, every artist needs his muse, and Jon Klassen has found his in headgear. I’m being facetious of course; neither book is about the hat, per se…it could have been something else entirely. Nevertheless, it is the incongruity of such an object in an unlikely setting, on an unlikely head, and in particular, the lengths animals (and fish) will go to find, keep, steal, and display such a prized possession that makes a hat the perfect muse for Jon Klassen. This is Not My Hat does not begin where I Want My Hat Back ends, but it is an alternative expression of a similar concept.

Fish, meet hat.

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  • Posted on June 07, 2012
Art and Max paint

Painting 101

At first I was just going to write about My Dog Thinks I’m a Genius. It’s a brilliant book (with a great title), and certainly worth a stand-alone review. But then I started thinking about other books in my collection where painting is the focus, and four came to mind, although I’m sure there are many more that have escaped my memory (or awareness.) By definition, a picture book about painting double-serves the subject in that it is a work of art about the creation of art, assuming, of course, the illustrations are actually works of art, which is not always the case. However, with these five books (and the other titles listed at the end of this post), the exquisiteness of the art is indisputable, as is the quality (and sheer number) of apes, dogs, squirrels, and lizards populating the text. But then, what is a kids book, even a kids book about art, without a dog, or a lizard?

In the aforementioned, My Dog Thinks I’m a Genius, Harriet Ziefert tells the story of an eight year old boy and his dog, Louie. The boy loves to paint, and Louie loves to watch~and critique. As the story opens, the boy is working on a picture of a tall building, methodically adding each element until he believes the painting is done, but Louie’s barks suggest otherwise. Something is missing. The boy adds Louie to the painting and voilà, it is finished. (Hard to argue with Louie’s logic. Most things are improved with the addition of a dog.) However, as it turns out, Louie isn’t just a connoisseur of art, he may also be a budding canine Cézanne. Now who’s the genius?

My Dog Thinks I’m a Genius is absolute stunner. The illustrations by French artist Barroux are a mixed palette of watercolour and pencil, scrawled, splashed, and (when it comes to the characters) meticulously drawn over thick, sometimes lined pages. The boy states, “I must draw and paint everyday”, and Barroux’s exuberant illustrations express the character’s love of painting in bright candy colours, shifting perspectives, and a very inventive use of space. Not unlike Cézanne, in other words, who is given a wonderful homage at the conclusion of the book. My Dog Thinks I’m a Genius celebrates the creative process as a messy, and often collaborative effort. It also slyly hints at the reality that there is always someone better than you, even if it’s your dog, but in the end the only thing that matters is that you love what you do. Suggested sequel: My Cat Thinks I’m an Idiot.

According to three-time Caldecott winner David Wiesner, Art & Max was born out of the creative process itself, and in particular, the inherent possibilities of various mediums. If a character’s top coat of paint is ‘cracked’ to reveal a pastel drawing below, and then in succession, all of the layers are exposed, what remains of the original line drawing? What if it collapses into a single line? Can the character be restored? In yet another display of Wiesnerian logic, he dumps the early drafts of ‘cuddly creatures’ in favour of the stylistically more interesting lizard to answer these, and other, self-imposed questions. I mean, why not?

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  • Posted on April 11, 2012
House Held Up By Trees Klassen

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 March 18, 2012
Old Coyote by Nancy Wood

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

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 September 30, 2011
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back by Governor General Award Winner Jon Klassen is my favourite book of the year. Yes, there are still three months left in 2011, and yes, I have lost my heart to several wonderful books in the last nine months, but I stand by by my statement. A book about a bear looking for his lost hat, with simple yet breathtakingly lovely illustrations, and even simpler (but hilarious) text is a perfect creation. And I kinda knew it would be just from the cover. Some books, like some people, have a charisma that precedes them. Maybe it’s the bear, who looks like a beaver, all alone on the cover, with a slightly accusatory expression on his face. Bears already hold an esteemed place in children’s literature. Who doesn’t love Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle, or the perpetually troubled Berenstains? We may fear bears in the woods, but in picture books, a bear is a slam dunk, and in I Want My Hat Back, the bear is a star in the making.

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