Sunday, November 11, 2012

Picture Book Month: Horton Hears a Who!

Image courtesy of Random House
Today's Picture Book Month feature
has an elephant and some creatures
living on a speck of dust
riding on an aimless gust...

...of air that floats across the way
on the fifteenth day of May
when Horton's giant, floppy ear
hears their tiny cries of fear.

The elephant tries to keep them safe
and takes them to another place
upon a soft and tiny flower.
But challenges come that very hour.

The tiny creatures called the Whos
can't be heard by kangaroos,
monkeys or the ugly birds.
Only Horton hears their words.

The monkeys, birds, and kangaroos
tease Horton about the tiny Whos
and try to tie him down with rope
though he is the Whos' last hope.

But Whos don't just stand idly by
and watch their friend bound and tied.
They scream, holler, and raise a noise
until the others hear their voice.

This book is such a lovely choice
to teach us how to raise our voice
on things we care for and that matter
in a world of idle chatter...

...and like Horton how to stick to
all that you know to be true
no matter what the loudmouths say.
They're probably wrong anyway.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Picture Book Month: Harold and the Purple Crayon

Today's Picture Book Month theme is "creativity," so I'm posting about the one and only Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.

Image courtesy of HarperCollins

When I first read Not A Box by Antoinette Portis, I immediately thought of this book. Simple, two-dimensional artwork that mostly consisted of gray tones and purple. And simple text telling the story of Harold and his purple crayon on a blank wall that takes him across oceans and even to the moon.

A bald baby in a onesie with a purple crayon. What's not to love?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Picture Book Month: The Trumpet of the Swan

I realize that, this being Picture Book Month, The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White is not a picture book. However, it is a book that contains a great amount of pictures illustrated by Fred Marcellino. And since today's theme is "music," I thought it would make a fitting post.

Image courtesy of HarperCollins
This was a cute and simple story about Louis (no doubt inspired by Louis Armstrong), who is a trumpeter swan who doesn't have a voice, so he can't trumpet and catch the attention of a female swan whom he fancies. So, his father goes to a music shop and steals a trumpet for Louis, but since stealing is wrong, Louis decides to go to Boston and earn some money to pay for the trumpet. And lo and behold, Louis turns out to be a decent trumpet player, so he earns the money that way.

The story is cute, although everything works out quite conveniently for Louis (sorry if I gave away the ending just now). I guess what I like most about it is that it's a story about someone who takes a "handicap" and turns it to something amazing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Picture Book Month: Not A Box

Today's Picture Book Month theme is "imagination," so I'm blogging today about Not A Box by Antoinette Portis.

Image courtesy of HarperCollins

I first heard about this book at a conference in Houston. At first glance, it doesn't look like much. The illustrations are not even simplistic; they're barebones line art. And the text is very simplistic, too.

But it's a brilliant book because it's exactly how a child today would speak and act (represented by the rabbit). It's very relatable, similar to how I think Beatrix Potter's books were (and still are). And who has been a child that hasn't played with a cardboard box at one time or another? And in addition to houses, race cars, and space ships, Calvin and Hobbes taught us that they can also be duplicators, transmogrifiers, and time machines.

The fact that the cover is made of cardboard and displays the weight of the book is a nice touch. But the simplicity of the book adds to the simplicity of the box it's representing, which can be anything that the imagination can fathom.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Picture Book Month: Paddington

The theme for Picture Book Month today is "bears," and naturally I wanted to post about Paddington by Michael Bond and illustrated by R. W. Alley. It's one in a series of little picture books based on Bond's original A Bear Called Paddington, which he was inspired to write after he saw a lonely toy bear in a toyshop in London's busy Paddington train station.

Image courtesy of HarperCollins
A couple years ago, I was with my brother and sister-in-law to London and we had to go through Paddington Station in order to get to Bath. Before hopping the train, I actually found the statue of Paddington Bear in the station. I took a picture with it, but I won't post it because my hair was shameful that day.

Anyway, I haven't been back to the UK since, but my brother was over in Holland for work a couple months ago. On he way back to the States, he stopped over in London for a couple days and picked up this little book for me.

I like this book (and the original chapter book) for the same reasons I like Cordoroy, which I blogged about last year. It's about a lost bear who finds a home, which I see as a metaphor for orphan children. I can't imagine what it is like to be young and not have a safe and loving family. That's probably why these stories have endured for so long, because they offer a little bit of comfort and even a small glimpse of hope.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Picture Book Month: Otis

Onward with Picture Book Month! This past weekend was a bit on the full side, and I forgot to prepare a post for Monday. But I'm picking the celebration back up today with Otis by Loren Long.

Image courtesy of Philomel.
I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Long speak at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles a couple years ago. He's a master dead-panner. I doubt he cracked a smile during his whole talk, but he was brilliant and hilarious nonetheless.

While I'm not a picture book writer or illustrator, I enjoyed listening to what he had to say. I believe Otis is his first book on his own, after having illustrated for other great books. The notes I took during his seminar barely take up half of a page, but I won't forget the nature of his talk. He basically showed the audience how to approach a book as a piece of artwork. Where is the mood? The emotion? The enthusiasm? These were concepts that, as a classically trained artist, he had to learn to convey through his artwork. He emphasized the importance of creating mood and emotions in scenes, whether written or illustrated, so that a viewer/reader can feel and not just view the "art." "We go back to the books we trust," he said, because they give one a sense of loyalty and security. And he emphasized that scenes should be about moments, not just whatever's happening.

While I attended several great talks during that conference, I have to say I learned more about storytelling from Mr. Long than I had in years. Stories are pieces of art, and regardless of the medium, they have to be given the right ingredients in order to work. Otherwise, it's not a Rembrant, but a piece of cloth with oil and pigment smeared on it. Or it's not a book, but a pile of paper with a fancy binding. Or it's not a diamond, but a silly rock.

He ended his talk with one question: "What do I want to give this world?" I think that's something I'm going to keep asking myself for the rest of my life.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Picture Book Month: It's Time to Sleep, My Love

I've posted before about It's Time To Sleep, My Love by Eric Metaxas and illustrated by Nancy Tillman. But since today's Picture Book Month theme is "bedtime," I'll post about it again.

Image courtesy of Feiwel & Friends

By itself, this is not my favorite bedtime picture book. Some of the rhyming is kinda wonky in my opinion, and the artwork is okay.

But this book is one of my favorites now, ever since my niece wanted me to read it with her while we were on vacation earlier this year. She actually read it to me. For the first couple minutes, I thought she was a two-year-old prodigy. But then, my brother said that she had memorized it and was just reciting the words from memory.

Still, not bad. I mean, I can't remember the last time I had the brain space to memorize anything, rhyming or otherwise. And to hear a sweet little voice saying, "It'th thime tho sleep, my luf, my luf," it's pretty priceless.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Picture Book Month: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Onward with Picture Book Month! Today we're celebrating bugs, and how can I not post about Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar?

Image courtesy of Philomel

I love this book on so many levels. Not only is a a simple, cute story, but the book itself is a work of art. Who would've thought to drill holes in the pages to illustrate the caterpillar eating his way through all kinds of (healthy) snacks? (Obviously, Carle did. Which is probably why he's the one pulling down the fat royalty checks.)

When I was in school, my first grade teacher was apparently awesome because she let each of us make our own "very hungry" book. I can't remember what my "very hungry" creature was, but I remember making my book out of construction paper and with a hole puncher. And up until that point, I had never used a hole puncher in my life, and that was a big thing for me. So clearly, my book produced by my seven-year-old hands was pure awesomeness as well.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Picture Book Month: Guess How Much I Love You

Continuing with celebrating picture books, today's theme is "rabbits."

Last year, I posted about Beatrix Potter's timeless classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I'm tempted to post about another Potter classic (The Tale of Benjamin Bunny), but this year I'll feature Guess How Much I Love You by Sam Mcbratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram as my rabbit book.

Image courtesy of Candlewick

This is one in a series of little books featuring Little Nut Brown Hare and Big Nut Brown Hare. I bought a set of these board books for my niece when she was still crawling. Like with most of her books at the time, she was fascinated with how they opened and closed, as well as how they could fit into the small box that they came in. And she would turn their pages for about a minute until she lost interest.

Now that she's a little older and likes to sit and listen to someone read her, she'll ask for this or other books in the series by saying, "Can we wead Nut Bwown Hare?"

The answer is, of course, always yes.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Picture Book Month: The Little Mermaid

It's Picture Book Month 2012!

I know. I'm a novelist, not a picture book writer. And not a traditionally published one, at that.

But I still love reading PBs. Especially now, since my niece is going to be three years old soon and she loves books, I have an even better excuse for a vast majority of my personal library being PBs.

So, in honor of picture books, I'm going to be following the calendar at and featuring a favorite picture book of mine each day.

Today, we're celebrating ocean picture books. One of my favorite to read in school was The Little Mermaid. And no, I don't mean the Disney version. I mean Hans Christian Andersen's version. Sure, it doesn't end as happily as Disney's does, but not all good stories can have a happy ending, can they?

Image from Wikipedia.

The version of the book that I read when I was in school is apparently out of print, which is why I posted a picture of the statue in Copenhagen, Denmark, instead. That's a shame, because I remember the book had gorgeous watercolors.

Fortunately, even if certain versions of books come and go, the originality and beauty of Andersen's fairy tale continues to stand the test of time, along with many of his popular stories.