My Pen by Christopher Myers (InfoSoup)
A new picture book from an award-winning illustrator which shows the power of art in a child’s life. Using powerful sketches, the book talks about the freedom and self-esteem that comes from creating art. Myers also speaks to the importance of imagination and creativity, showing an elephant in a teacup and the protagonist riding a dinosaur. He plays with different perspectives and plays the simplicity of ink and pen art against the complexity of world problems that art also speaks to. Even mistakes and errors are embraced along the way, showing children that the goal is not perfection but the experience of creation.
Beautifully written and illustrated, this picture book is a compelling look at creativity and art. The words in the book demonstrate the various aspects of art, showing a playfulness throughout but also allowing moments of gravity and seriousness as well. The book ends with an encouragement to the reader to pick up a pen and see what worlds they discover inside it.
The real focus of this picture book is the art, which is incredibly beautiful. Done in pen, of course, the art is detailed and distinctive. The boy’s face is expressive throughout, as he takes imaginary travels and as he responds to making mistakes on the page. Thanks to the creative subject, one is never sure what is going to be revealed on the next page. With art of this quality, it’s a delight to turn the pages and discover each new image.
Share this with art teachers or in units that encourage creativity. Then have pens ready for children to create their own art on the page, blots and all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman
Released April 14, 2015
Mouse wakes up early to start work on the new story she wants to write. It is a quiet story about a mouse who is setting the table. But before she can get any farther in her story, exuberant Frog hops in and starts adding new elements to the story, including cake, a king, and lots of ice cream. Meanwhile Mouse is trying to mop up all of the mess of the spilled tea, melting ice cream, while Frog gets completely out of control and takes over entirely. Finally Mouse has had enough and yells that Frog is not listening at all! They erase the entire mess of Frog’s story and start again with just Mouse’s ideas of morning tea. Frog is forlorn, unable to help until Mouse realizes that there is room in the story for her quiet ideas and Frog’s wild ones.
Freedman shows without any didactic tone that collaboration on stories and art is possible, as long as everyone listens, communicates and compromises. In fact, the end result is a lot more lovely! Showing that wild ideas are not the best way to come up with a story, but that also quiet thoughts have value, is a wonderful show of support for quieter thinkers. At the same time, that wild moment of Frog’s makes the entire book work, showing how out of control and wonderful some ideas can be. It’s a balanced look at creativity and collaboration that is welcoming and inclusive.
As always Freedman’s art is exceptional. Once again she does washes of watercolor that are gorgeously messy and free. The spilled tea and other elements of Frog’s story embrace all of that. Mouse’s story is shown in pencil drawings that are childlike and rough while also being very neat and structured. They show each characters personality clearly. At the end, it is a lovely marriage of the two styles, filled with bright colors and yet neat as a pin.
Creative and great fun to share aloud, this picture book demonstrates how teamwork and collaboration should work. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
Quest by Aaron Becker
This follow-up to the Caldecott Honor winning Journey continues the wordless travels of the two characters from the first book. The two children head off on a fantasy quest this time after a king comes through a door and hands them a map. He is dragged off by soldiers but as he goes, he drops his orange crayon, one that is just like their red and purple ones. The two children go through the door and find themselves in a new world. They embark on a quest to bring all of the crayons together, venturing into the depths of the sea, onto desert islands, to pyramids and temples. At each one they gather another crayon color until they reach the pinnacle of the temple where the bad guys almost get them…
Becker has created a wordless book that has the same appeal as the first book. The pace here is rapid, giving only a few images for each color that is gathered. That offers the wild pace of an adventure novel or film, so it suits the subject. The fast ride adds greatly to the appeal here, never bogging down and always revealing new visual wonders to explore.
Becker’s art shines on the page. He creates entire worlds that have real depth to them, that take readers on amazing adventures. There are great details of color on the page, and I love the way that the various creative ideas of the children all remain in place at the end of the book, completely come to life.
A celebration of art and creativity, this book along with its predecessor will become beloved reads. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
Dory is the youngest in her family and her older siblings won’t play with her at all. So she is left to play on her own and thanks to her great imagination, Dory has a lot of fun. Dory has a best friend, Mary, a monster who sleeps under her bed and is always willing to play. There are also other monsters all over their house. When Dory continues to bother her brother and sister, they make up a story about Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a horrible woman who steals baby girls and is looking for Dory! So when the doorbell rings, Dory knows it is Mrs. Gobble Gracker coming for her. Hopefully the little man who says he’s her fairy godmother will be able to help defeat her. In the end though it is Dory’s own creativity and bravery that will save her and maybe even get her siblings to play too.
Hanlon brilliantly captures the wild imagination of a little girl who doesn’t slow down for a minute, zinging from one idea to the next even as those around her groan. Dory could have been a problematic character, but thanks to the book being told from her point of view, readers will get to see how strong a person she is long before she displays it to her family.
Hanlon’s art makes this a book that younger readers will happily pick up and read. Her black and white illustrations are more than paragraph breaks, they show the story of Dory and all of the characters she dreams up over the course of the day. On the page, we see what Dory sees, not what her family doesn’t see and it’s quite a world that she has created.
Fast moving, wild and full of laughs, this book is a dynamic introduction to a fresh new face that will appeal to fans of Junie B, Jones. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Draw! by Raúl Colón
In this wordless picture book, Colón recreates his love of drawing as a child and the way that it could take him to new places. Here a boy is sitting on his bed looking at a book about Africa. He sets the book aside and picks up his drawing pad and a pencil. Soon readers can see the images in his head as he puts them on paper. The boy is transported directly to Africa, setting up his drawing easel in front of each of the different animals of Africa. The elephant is first and after seeing his picture gives the boy a ride to met the zebras. The book moves from one animal to the next, the boy changing how he approaches them according to what animal it is. Until finally a group of monkeys make a picture of the boy. Readers and the boy return to his bedroom, now littered with all of the drawings of the animals.
This book nicely captures without using any words at all the transformative power of art and creativity. It beautifully shows how art can transport you to a different place and time, moving you into the flow of creating a work. It also demonstrates how inspiration can strike and the flow of creativity can overtake you in the best possible way.
Colón’s illustrations are done in pen, ink, watercolors and pencil. They move from line drawings with pastel tones of real life to a more lush and rich color and style when we are inside the boy’s imagination. Colón uses lines on these more colorful pages to give texture and movement to the image. They are illustrations that invite you to walk right into them.
Imagination, creativity and art come together in this book to transport readers right into Africa. Now it’s time to get out your own pencils and see where they will take you. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison
Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy. The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work. He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style. Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses. Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it. Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening. What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?
This is a wonderfully rich picture book. The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds. It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance. Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart. Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy. They are a solid pair.
Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work. Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s. The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself. It’s a delight.
Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Miss Brooks’ Story Nook by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley
A sequel to Miss Brooks Loves Books, this picture book celebrates story telling. Missy loves going to Miss Brook’s Story Nook right before school each day. She takes the long way to school, because otherwise she has to go past Billy Toomey’s house and he steals her hat and yells at her. Then one day at Story Nook, the power goes out so they have to tell their own stories. Missy though insists that she’s a reader not a storyteller. But soon she is telling her own story, inspired by Billy Toomey. It is the story of an ogre named Graciela who has a pet snake that escapes. The trick is that Missy needs to figure out a satisfying ending to her story of an ogre and a bully.
Bottner has created another engaging story filled with humor and clever solutions. Miss Brooks is inspiring with her enthusiasm for books and stories and the way she encourages the children to keep making their stories better. It’s a joy to see Missy tell her very creative story, struggle with some of it but persevere and create a satisfying tale for the entire class to enjoy.
Emberley’s illustrations add a lot of zing to the book. He captures moods so clearly in his characters from the jaunty excitement of Miss Brooks to Missy’s ever-changing moods. They are told through expressions and also body language.
Smart and funny, this is a book to inspire young readers to create their own stories just like Missy. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Random House.
The Numberlys by William Joyce, illustrated by Christina Ellis
In a world where there are only numbers, everything is very orderly and neat. But it’s also very gray, even the food. Then five friends started to wonder if there was something more than numbers, something different! So they started inventing and they slowly came up with letters. And when they reached the final letter Z, things started to change. Color entered their dreary lives as the letters fell into place. Once the letters formed words, real changes started and the entire world was flooded with color and yummy foods and possibilities.
Based on the app, this is a second picture book from the creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which also started as an app. Joyce creates a numeric and order-filled world reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 in the first pages of the book. The text here is very simple, allowing most of the storytelling to be done by the illustrations. Joyce keeps a light hand here and uses humor to show how dark the world is. Who could imagine a world without jellybeans?
It is Ellis’ art that brings this world to life. Her orderly world has the feel of wooden toy soldiers and the five friends are wonderfully different and unique even before they invent the alphabet. The gray tones of the early part of the book give way to jellybean colors that jump on the page.
This celebration of words and books also examines the importance of independent thought and creativity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.