Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Creepy Carrots!Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What’s a poor rabbit to do when the carrots he loves to munch on begin stalking him? Jasper Rabbit is faced with that question when he begins to suspect the delicious carrots from Crackenhopper Field are following him around, spying on him as he brushes his teeth and watching him while he’s in bed. Author Aaron Reynolds and illustrator Peter Brown have created a child-friendly homage to a classic ‘Twilight Zone’ scenario in this funny picture book that is perfect for any young child looking to be scared, but not too scared. Illustrator Peter Brown, using a monochromatic palette of warm grays and carroty orange, captures the shadowy look of an old horror movie. Even the edges of the frame are rounded to suggest a story unfolding on an old television screen. Jasper Rabbit’s paranoia is cleverly conveyed in Brown’s illustrations where the artist shows us what Jasper sees (creepy carrots everywhere) and what others see (everyday orange objects like flower pots or pop bottles). Because no one else can see the creepy carrots, Jasper realizes that he must turn to his own resourcefulness to outwit them. Kids may not look at a carrot in the same way after finishing this funny, slightly spooky tale. This would be the perfect read-aloud for Halloween or any night when a scary tale is called for.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Oh, No!

Oh, No!Oh, No! by Candace Fleming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Candace Fleming has written a charming picture book about a group of jungle animals who one by one fall into a deep hole where they are stalked by a tiger. Don’t worry, the situation might sound dire, but it’s handled with great humor and no animals get harmed in this funny tale. Fleming’s use of word repetition to describe the animals’ sounds and movements is so wonderfully rhythmic that I can almost imagine this book being put to music and sung. Even reading it silently to myself, I could almost hear the words being sung like a folk song. The beautiful relief print illustrations are by Caldecott medal winner Eric Rohmann, author and illustrator of such books as “Time Flies,” “The Cinder-Eyed Cats,” and “My Friend Rabbit.” Beginning and ending with the end papers, Rohmann fills the book with full page spreads showing us each animal as it approaches the hole and then what happens as they fall into it. The illustrations have a wonderful sense of movement and rhythm, making a perfect match for Fleming’s sing-song text. On some spreads Rohmann has split the page into panels, much like a comic strip so that we get a continuous flow of movement. As each animal falls in, we are shown the animals already in the hole, jostling to make room for the new occupant. For these ‘action shots,’ Rohmann cleverly changes the point of view so that we get a glimpse of what it’s like looking up from the bottom of the deep, deep hole. I think kids will be delighted by the ending of Fleming’s tale when they see who comes to the rescue and what happens to the tiger. And for those worried about the tiger, the last spread on the end papers should ease any worries over his fate. This would make a great read-aloud, one I’m sure kids will enjoy participating in and hearing over and over again.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Hit the Road, Jack

Hit the Road, Jack by Robert Burleigh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Ross MacDonald's picture books since "Another Perfect Day." His retro style, done in watercolor and pencil crayon, is filled with a warm yellow glow, that looks like sunshine hitting paper. "Hit the Road, Jack" celebrates life on the open road and the joys of traveling cross country and was loosely inspired by Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." Author Robert Burleigh gives us a jackrabbit named Jack who is itching to travel and to see America. Setting out in New York he walks, bikes, hitchhikes and rides the rails from sea to shining sea, where he finally lands in San Francisco. But for Jack, the city by the bay is just one more stop, because for guys like Jack there's only one rule: "Never, Never Stop."

"Hit the Road, Jack" cleverly exalts the world of roadside diners, tourist attractions and taking the time to appreciate our country's beautiful scenery. My only complaint about this otherwise wonderful picture book is that some of the cities that Jack passes through look a little too generic. For example, when Jack lands in Chicago, we see him on South Halsted Street, but with the exception of a few jazz club signs, the buildings lack any real detail. The skyscrapers in the background could be from any big city. The text frequently mentions places that Jack is passing through, but instead the illustrations give us depictions of Jack having a picnic or sleeping in a car. Now, as an illustrator myself, I don't believe an illustrator's job is to literally interpret every word of the text, but I do feel that some of MacDonald's choices seem a little simple and generic. The illustrations are warm, funny, colorful and wonderfully composed, but I do think on a few occasions MacDonald missed an opportunity to do something spectacular. For example when Jack passes through the salt flats the text reads, "Over the salt flats, on and on, The horizon thick with reds, And mesas looming far, far off, Like carved-out giants' heads." The illustration shows Jack running across white ground with his arms upraised to the sky. In the background are a line of reddish-orange mesas which don't appear to be looming, nor do they resemble the giants' heads described in the text. Instead, they look small and insignificant and just don't convey the grandeur of these magnificent natural wonders.

On the whole the pictures and text depict an America of the past, a nostalgic 1940s America where strangers wave to one another, walking the streets was a safe thing to do, and hopping a freight and hitchhiking were inexpensive ways to travel. In this rosy colored world, money is not important "You're broke - but well, so what? 'Cause money's only something, Jack, That gets you in a rut." If only life were so simple.

I love to travel and I love road trips so I recommend this book for it's message of throwing your cares to the wind and seeing the world, even if in real life, that's not always the easiest thing to do. But, after all this is a picture book and kids need to know there's a beautiful world out there, waiting for them to explore it. Robert Burleigh's story conveys that message in a colorful way and kids will love searching MacDonald's illustrations for the little blue bird that follows Jack on his cross country travels. For adults, I think parents will enjoy the rhythms of the delightful text which is perfect for reading aloud.

Detail from "Hit the Road, Jack" illustration by Ross MacDonald

Detail from "Hit the Road, Jack" illustration by Ross MacDonald
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Monday, October 01, 2012

Illustration Friday - Book

I haven't submitted anything for 'Illustration Friday' in quite a while, but when I saw this week's topic was the word "Book," I couldn't resist participating. Over a ten year period, I worked at two different independent bookstores and during that time one of the things I was responsible for was editing the newsletters for both stores. Because I'm also an artist, I created a lot of book-related spot illustrations, especially for the children's newsletter that I created. I don't remember if this image was for the newsletter or not, but I did use it for a while on my business card. It started off as a black and white pen and ink sketch which I then turned into a color illustration in Adobe Illustrator.  I then took that image, exported it as a tiff file and opened it in Photoshop where I applied some Mister Retro filters to give it the look of an old, scuffed print image.