In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
Australian author-illustrator Jeannie Baker is best known for her wordless books featuring incredibly detailed collage. Her latest, Mirror, is illustrated with lavish collage artwork — and features an innovative format that allows its two stories to be viewed simultaneously. The book appeared on our Fanfare list as one of our choices for the best books of 2010; a starred review can be found in the January/February 2011 Horn Book Magazine. (7–10 years)
1. Your collages are so detailed and complex — how long did the entire process of making Mirror take, from initial sketches to finished artwork?
I traveled to Morocco in 1993 for a holiday, which is when I got the idea. I then did quite a bit of research before returning to Morocco in 1995. From that point I worked full-time developing the project…so I suppose you could say Mirror involved a long five years work.
2. Lucky fans in Australia can see the art for Mirror in a traveling exhibit, but for those of us here, what size are those artworks?
Most of my artworks were constructed the same size as my original design for the book (slightly larger than the final reproduction).
But from the beginning, I envisaged the project also working as a traveling exhibition. Some works that are tiny reproductions in the book are larger in the original to have more impact in the exhibition. The largest original piece is 875 mm (w) x 213 mm (h) [roughly 34.5 x 8 inches] and in reproduction is 528 mm (w) x 125 mm (h) [roughly 21 x 5 inches].
3. How did you come up with the idea for Mirror’s unique double-foldout format, and was it difficult to get your publisher on board?
The double-foldout format idea came from the necessity to have the parallel journeys viewed side by side.
Initially I put detailed layout drawings of the two parts of the book together in a more complicated way. I tested it on a friend and watched as he just couldn’t work out how to open my book layout. So I went to bed that night tossing it over in my mind and woke up with the problem solved … such an obviously simple solution to have each part of the book open out from the edge of the cover.
As you might imagine I was very unsure how my publisher, Walker Books UK, might react to the book concept, let alone its tricky mechanics. To my great relief and joy, Walker’s managing editor got straight back to me with the most positive feedback I’ve yet been given at this stage of my work, and Walker then got to work preparing binding mockups to resolve the final page size before I started on the final art.
4. The lives of the two families intersect when the Australian boy and his dad in Mirror return home with the rug woven by the Moroccan boy’s mom. Was the idea for this connection in your head from the very beginning?
I remember I was always fascinated with the carpet weaving I saw in remote Berber villages and “lived-in” caves, so this would always have been there in my thinking.
The carpet provides a lovely real link between the two families, and then there is the wondrous and classic idea of the “magic flying carpet” with its associated travel and romance.
5. Like your picture book Window and its companion book Home, Mirror is wordless. What special challenges does a wordless book present to an illustrator?
I’ve never thought of it as a special challenge. I guess it is much the same with or without words…thinking it through and designing it to work whichever way.
Millicent (1980) was my first wordless picture book, but my publisher at that time was frightened to publish it that way and words had to be added.Wordless seems to be an approach that works for me, and I love that it involves the reader differently, where the reader is not led through the story to the same extent and has to think more about the images to grasp what is going on. This also allows the possibility of varied interpretations.
—Jennifer M. Brabander
If the default for children’s fiction these days seems to be either otherworldly or all too close to home, there are still some excellent recent novels that can introduce readers to a wider world. Here are a few.
In Monika Schröder’s Saraswati’s Way, Akash dreams of studying mathematics, but he has always known that prospects in his small desert village are dim. So he escapes to Delhi, becoming one of the many children scavenging the streets for food and shelter, and in this twelve-year-old’s case, an education. Akash makes an appealing hero for this urban survival story. (10–14 years)
Susan Lynn Meyer provides an unusual setting for a World War II story in Black Radishes. Paris in 1940 is not safe for Jewish families, so Gustave and his parents leave for the small town of Saint-Georges; luckily for them, they end up on the right (i.e., free) side of the river between German-occupied France and the rest of the country. Meyer builds the tension by using real-life events (detailed in an author’s note), and creates in Gustave a very believable boy who behaves bravely when he must. (10–14 years)
In How Tía Lola Learned to Teach, the wider world comes to a Vermont small town in the person of Tía Lola, who gives her great-niece and nephew’s entire school lessons in the Spanish language and Dominican culture. By noted adult novelist Julia Alvarez, this sequel to How Tía Lola Came to
In Around the World in 100 Days, Gary Blackwood’s audacious sequel to a Jules Verne classic, Harry Fogg follows in his famous father’s footsteps when he makes a bet that he can circumnavigate the globe in one hundred days — not in a train but a motor car. Likable characters, an ever-changing setting, and lots of reversals of fortune mark this novel as a good choice for fans of adventure. (9–12 years)
Toddlers can be the most enthusiastic — and most relentless — fans of their favorite books. Here are five titles that not-babies-anymore will love and that parents won’t mind reading over…and over…and over.
Two new board books — Tubby and Potty — feature Leslie Patricelli’s impish, oval-headed, gender-neutral toddler with a squiggly curl, rosy-apple cheeks, and an ear-to-ear grin. There’s an abundance of sly humor in the brief, child-friendly texts and the comfortably rounded, bold-hued acrylic illustrations; Patricelli outdoes herself in Potty with a multi-panel spread that includes the protagonist sitting, naked, on a tiny toilet perusing a potty-training manual. (1–4 years)
Someone else who goes toe-to-toe with toilet training is the star of Bob Shea’s Dinosaur vs. the Potty. The little red dynamo from Dinosaur vs. Bedtime loudly triumphs over a variety of tasks (“Dinosaur versus…making lemonade! Roar! Roar! Mix! Squeeze! Roar!”) until, inevitably, he bows to the call of nature. Bold design elements — heavy outline, lots of color, playful placement of type, etc. — echo the character’s T. rex–sized personality. (2–5 years)
What distinguishes Olivier Dunrea’s Old Bear and His Cub from other daddy-loves-you books is the degree of acknowledged reciprocity. Old Bear may stare hard at Little Cub until he eats his porridge, but when Old Bear betrays signs of a cold, he grudgingly, eventually gives in to Little Cub’s orders to get into bed. Bedtime-friendly text and fine-lined pictures of the bear pair (one very little, one very big) depict this loving battle of wills. (3–5 years)“It's time to wake up… / and start the day with friends!” In Cuddle Up, Goodnight by Kate Cleminson, one young boy’s ordinary day is pretty extraordinary, thanks to some animal pals. A gentle elephant wakes him in the morning (and tucks him in at night); his classmates include a lemur and a penguin; his teacher is a red-vested brown bear, etc. Quietly fanciful illustrations show the boy and the friendly creatures engaged in familiar pursuits, described in the comfortably rhymed text. The whole has a charmingly unpretentious, old-fashioned appeal. (2–5 years)
Three stunning photo-essays plus one riveting natural history tour and a glimpse back to the dinosaurs add up to five fascinating new nonfiction picture books for primary graders.
In I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird: My Adventures Photographing Wild Animals from a Helicopter, National Geographic aerial photographer Robert B. Haas describes the unique perspective his work gives him on nature. Hanging by harnesses through the doorway of a helicopter, bundled in layers of cold-weather clothes, he has captured exhilarating natural scenes from around the world. The accessible, straightforward narrative combines information on animal behavior with an account of the steps Haas takes to document it. As the stunning sampling of his photographs collected here demonstrates, the risks have paid off. (6–10 years)
Another nature photographer, Nic Bishop, strives for the perfect shot both in the field and in his studio. Nic Bishop Lizards combines spectacular images and excellent scientific information about the many lizard species, their behaviors, anatomy, and survival mechanisms, and the various desert and forest habitats in which they live. The brilliant color photographs bring us sharply into close-ups on the nubby texture of lizard skin or capture frame-by-frame the animals in mid-jump. (5–8 years)
Irresistibly endearing polar bear photographs are the highlight of Mark Newman’s Polar Bears. The facts are genuinely interesting, yet it is Newman’s numerous icy-blue photographs of adults and babies in their natural habitats that are most memorable, as they manage to capture the bears at their most appealing. In the final sections, Newman emphasizes the challenges polar bears face due to climate change, which is forcing the bears onto land and into conflict with humans. (5–8 years)
Big Belching Bog, written by Phyllis Root, invites readers into the stillness of a northern Minnesota bog, a fascinating and eerie natural environment. Root’s prose conveys the mellow characteristics and funkiness of the bog, while Betsy Bowen’s stylized woodcut illustrations, predominantly black, blue, purple, and green, capture the murky but nonetheless teeming-with-life place. The possibility of hearing the bog “belch” — as a result of escaping methane gas produced by decomposing peat — provides tension in the narrative and a sure-fire hook for readers. (5–8 years)
Looking back a few millennia, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld’s Where Did Dinosaurs Come From? concentrates on the period from 330 million years ago to 65 million years ago, from the appearance of four-footed, egg-laying vertebrates, to the split between mammal ancestors and reptiles, and through to the myriad dinosaur species that thrived in the Mesozoic Era. Zoehfeld is remarkably precise with language, no easy feat when writing on this topic for beginning readers, providing outstanding explanations of key evolution concepts. Lucia Washburn’s color illustrations include imagined portrayals of dinosaurs active in verdant habitats. (5–8 years)
Fantasy and sci-fi novels allow readers to discover new universes while exploring themes relevant to their own lives here on Earth. These new YA titles navigate the brave frontiers of identity, relationships, and ethics in fully realized alternate realities.
Pathfinder marks the debut of a new series by Orson Scott Card. Rigg and Umbo discover complementary abilities to bend time, and together master the fundamentals of time travel as they search for Rigg’s long-lost family. Interspersed is Ram’s voyage to establish a colony on a distant planet, requiring a dangerous jump through time. As the rules of time travel emerge, so does the connection between the two stories, weaving conventions of science fiction and fantasy seamlessly and in startling ways. (10 years and up)
Sapphique, sequel to Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron, finds Finn forced to defend his identity as Giles, the prince kidnapped and held captive in the sentient prison. Finn’s left-behind companions steal Sapphique’s Glove, an artifact that supposedly connects the wearer’s will to the prison’s. Incarceron offers freedom in exchange for the Glove — but can they trust its insane intelligence? Fisher builds to an inexorable climax, alternating events inside the steampunk-style prison with those in the lush outside society. (10 years and up)
The Mars of David Macinnis Gill’s Black Hole Sun is newly inhabited, but already tainted by Earthly vices. As teenage bounty hunter Durango and his crew take various assignments, he must confront past and present nemeses, work through complicated feelings about his father, and juggle several romantic overtures. While the novel fits squarely in the science fiction category, elements of action, romance, and humor give it broad appeal. (12 years and up)
In Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four, nine Lorien children escaped to Earth after the invasion of their planet by Mogadorians. A protective charm assures the children can only be killed in numerical order once separated. Now three are dead; Number Four, living as human sophomore John Smith, develops powers that may help the remaining Loriens defeat the Mogadorians. Though plot-driven and intensely paced, the novel still places ample focus on character development and philosophical concepts. (12 years and up)Most of the human race is instantly annihilated by aliens with extraordinary powers of the mind in Brian Yansky’s action-packed, provocative, and wickedly funny novel Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences. A minority of humans, able to receive the aliens’ telepathic communications, is kept alive to serve as slaves. When protagonist Jesse and his fellow slaves Michael, Lindsey, Lauren, and Catlin find their own mental powers increasing, they make a daring plan to escape. (12 years and up)
If the newspapers (paper? What a concept!) have it right, a lot of you are busy pushing and poking the screen on your shiny new iPads and e-readers right about now. (In fact, this very note is being composed on an iPad, loathe as I am to tear myself away from my new iBooks edition of The Age of Innocence.) I just wanted to remind you that we’re keeping an eye on this latest kind of publishing with reviews of new e-books and apps over at Out of the Box, our blog for covering new media. For book reviewers, evaluating these new forms of “books” presents a challenge to our criteria and critical vocabulary (a phrase such as “moves right along” acquires new meaning), one that will remain in flux just as the media continues to change. We’ll try to keep up.
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