• Posted on May 18, 2013

A Long Way Away

Thinking a lot about space these days. Not physical space~celestial space. The stuff above my head. My inspiration is Chris Hadfield, the Canadian commander of the International Space Station recently returned to Earth after six months in space. More about that in my next post. For now, I would like to direct your attention to the creatures who populate the space up there, way up there. I speak of aliens, of course, or one alien in particular, who, like Cmd Hadfield, has a taste for adventure.

In Frank Viva’s new book, A Long Way Away, we find an affable, jellyfish-like alien setting off on a journey, but it is up to the reader to decide if he is headed toward earth, or departing from it. Read one way, the alien is descending from space to earth in a tube-like yellow tunnel. Read the other, he is ascending through the same tunnel. This two-in-one story was created, like Viva’s previous book Along a Long Road, as a single, continuous 26 ft piece of art. In addition to myself and other picture book aficionados, it’s easy to imagine the young audience for A Long Way Away being completely enthralled by the format and possibility of this clever and beautiful book. With simple blocks of text and fantastically quirky, almost retro imagery, the narrative is wide open to interpretation, and yet what links this book to Along a Long Road is the pleasure of the journey.

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  • Posted on May 05, 2013

Darkness Visible

Geez, it seems like I just finished writing about Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat and another book has appeared on the shelves. The guy is a machine, and I mean this in the nicest way possible. Just because he is prolific doesn’t mean his work is less than magnificent each time out. On the contrary, Klassen continues to show us unique facets of his creativity, which is boundless, if not a little warped. With The Dark, Klassen teams with fellow quirkmeister of children’s literature, Lemony Snicket for a singular unfortunate event, rather than a series. The monochromatic story is set in an old house, with a claw-foot tub and a lot of creaky wooden doors. Young pajama-wearing Laszlo is afraid of the dark, which is an actual thing in residence alongside Laszlo and his family. The dark hides in closets, behind shower curtains, or ‘pressed up against some old, damp boxes’, but mostly spends its time in the basement.

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  • Posted on November 30, 2012

This Moose Belongs to Me

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers is like the shreddie in a bag of Nuts ‘n Bolts: impossible to resist, and so spectacular in flavour it makes the pretzels and cheesy things pale in comparison. I know. Could this metaphor be more strained? I will confess that I’m experiencing difficulty coming up with adjectives for the singular brilliance of artists like Oliver Jeffers, Jon Klassen, Lisbeth Zwerger, and the other illustrators who populate this blog (and elsewhere.) While these artists are few, they are without a doubt masters of their respective mediums, and at the core of what is arguably a highpoint in the history of illustration. A low-point as well, as there are many more bad books than good, and e-readers threaten to erase or at least diminish the sensual and visual pleasure of a truly great picture book. At this moment, however, the privilege still exists, and I would strongly recommend that you get your hands on This Moose Belongs to Me.

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  • Posted on January 03, 2012


As the year, any year, comes to a close, we are compelled by cultural pressures and lifestyle evangelists to evaluate our lives and either pat ourselves on the back for a job well done (unlikely), or resolve to improve our shortcomings (more likely) in the new year. I fall into the latter category. I always fall into the latter category. Unhelpful and occasionally unhealthy patterns plague me year after year, and year after year I resolve to change them…to break free…to be the person I’m meant to be, or something like that. But, I’m stuck. Stuck in routines and behaviours that prevent me from moving beyond my present situation (and dress size.) After many failed attempts to deal with my various and largely self-imposed problems, I need a new plan of attack. Luckily, and just in time, Oliver Jeffers has published a new how-to book on this very subject. Sure, it may be difficult to obtain the required blue whale and an ocean freighter, but I am game, and willing to try anything once. I just wish I didn’t throw like a girl.

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  • Posted on July 17, 2011

Along a Long Road

Occasionally, children’s picture book art takes a left turn from traditional paint and pencil illustration into the somewhat sterile world of computer-generated imagery. Perhaps this is a moot point…it’s either good, or it’s not. Graphic imagery within a design context can be quite pleasing, but in general, I’m not a fan of digitalized art for picture books. Nevertheless, I suspect I am viewing it more often than I think I am. In fact, a few of my favourite artists use computers to augment their ‘old style’ illustrations, including Emily Gravett and Poly Bernatene, and I have to assume there are others. For what it’s worth, knowing that at some point an artist’s hands got messy is important to me. It’s like eating those perfectly peeled, tube-shaped baby carrots from the grocery store; they are so far removed from the dirt they are grown in, it’s hard to appreciate them as carrots.

But then…along comes Along a Long Road, a beautifully illustrated, completely charming picture book executed entirely on Adobe Illustrator. I can’t say whether or not Frank Viva’s hands got dirty making this book, but he was most certainly engaged in very detailed, creative work. And the medium, in this particular case, is perfect for the story. A digitalized palette is still a palette, even if nothing gets squeezed out of a tube.

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