Category Archives: Art

Day 23, book 23: The Monster Returns by Peter McCarty

The Monster Returns is a sweet little ode to creativity and friendship, with monsters. This time around, Peter McCarty brings back Jeremy’s blue monster buddy from Jeremy Draws a Monster. At the beginning of the story, the Monster calls Jeremy from a phone booth to let his pal know that he’s back, and he’s bored.

Bored could be a problem. Generally, you never want a monster to be bored. This is common knowledge. If you remember the action in McCarty’s first Jeremy story, you’ll recall how demanding the monster was. So this time, Jeremy is going to be prepared. He thinks fast, inviting a crowd of neighborhood kids to come up to his apartment and help him out. He gives each one a fancy pen and they all draw their own monsters to surprise Jeremy’s monster. “Friends for me?” says Jeremy’s monster, when he sees the others, and all is well.

Peter McCarty’s art is subtle and whimsical, with fine lines and plenty of white background space for the huge, colourful monsters to stand out against. Plus, Jeremy’s monsters pink hat is smashing. I love the kooky end pages, and I’m sure kids will too.

The Monster Returns is published by Henry Holt.


The Hueys in The New Jumper

Not sure why, but I feel like The Hueys in The New Jumper should be greeted with a round of applause. This is partly because it only takes reading this book once to feel like you’ve known the Hueys for a long time and this is just another one of their adorably silly adventures. Also, this is an Oliver Jeffers book, so come on people, of course we should be applauding.

First, watch the cute-as-a-button trailer:

There are about as many reasons to like this book as there are Hueys:

1) Trademark Oliver Jeffers kookiness. These Hueys are strange little critters, and we love ’em.

2) It’s such a simple idea, but there are some big ideas hiding inside of it that would be fun to talk about with the little people you read it to.

3) It’s silly.

4) It is BFF with another awesome book about a sweater that changes everything. (Am I right or am I right?)

5) It has names in it like Rupert and Gillespie.

6) You can make your very own Huey online. I did. She was very stylish.

It’s about individuality, community, trendsetting, and cute jumpers. Good for just about every unique person you know.

The Hueys in The New Jumper is published by Harper Collins.

Bake Sale

Bake Sale by Saran Varon is a quirky little confection from the talented lady who brought us the beautifully understated graphic novel, Robot Dreams. It is a treat to look at, and it has recipes from the story collected at the end, for any aspiring bakers out there.

Bake Sale is every bit as visually beautiful as Varon’s previous graphic novel, but I confess, it’s not as satisfying when it comes to the narrative. I really wanted to love this book (I mean come on, look at that cover! A-dorable). While I can say I love the soft simplicity of the illustrations, the storyline left me a little baffled. It’s never a good sign when it’s not easy to describe exactly what the book is about. Part of the problem for me here is I do not think that the concept is something that kids can connect to. They will see the cover and think, “I want to read this,” but then I’m afraid the story will leave some readers disappointed.

Cupcake enjoys his life working in his small bakery, hanging out with his band mates, and spending time with his best friend Eggplant. He starts to slip into a baking slump, so Eggplant shares that he is planning a trip to Turkey and he promises that if Cupcake comes along he can introduce his friend to Turkish Delight (Cupcake’s baking idol). This prompts Cupcake to do everything he can to raise money for the trip, but Cupcake never gets to go because he ends up giving up his earnings to fund Eggplant’s trip when he loses his job.  It feels like an odd and somewhat confusing combination of topics for a ten-year-old reader, right? The ending is very open, and I think that’s another thing that kids will find disappointing. I like an open ending. I find they are often the most realistic and rich endings in fiction, but this ending felt like an abrupt cut off, rather than a satisfying stopping point. The thematic threads related to following one’s passions, being selfless in friendship, and never giving up, are just not explored or developed enough to make this book completely successful.

Cute? Certainly. I bought it for the library because of its sheer cuteness. (Wait until you see the endpapers – maybe the most delicious I have ever seen!) I’m just worried that the reading experience for most kids will be a let down, the way some pretty cupcakes look much better than they taste, which can be really upsetting. I speak from experience. So I’ll let you know the kid-appeal verdict soon.

Bake Sale by Sarah Varon is published by First Second.


I was pretty excited to read this. One was a picture book that my students got really excited about last year. They had so much to say about it. My favourite comment? “Can we do an art project about this book Miss Millar?” We never got around to it and I wish we had. I think Zero will inspire just as much discussion and it could easily lead to some lovely artwork too.

Zero feels empty, like she doesn’t count. After trying to be everything she isn’t, she finds a way to be herself and to feel important. Just like in the companion book, the illustrations here are really clever. Kathryn Otoshi finds a way to convey a lot of energy and different feelings by varying the colour, thickness, and shapes of the number characters in her story. Kids will enjoy figuring out all that the pictures have to say. I think that because the premise is similar to what the author explored in One, it wasn’t quite as delightful simply because the concept wasn’t completely new. The first book really captivated and this one certainly pleases. It’s made for classroom reading, conversation, and definitely for art projects. You can count on it. (Sorry. Couldn’t help it).

Summer Blog Blast Tour: Charise Mericle Harper

It’s Day Two of the Summer Blog Blast Tour and I’m pleased to welcome Charise Mericle Harper, author of many fun and funny books, including the Just Grace and Fashion Kitty series, to Shelf Elf. Thanks for joining the tour Charise! Let’s get the questions going.

Both Fashion Kitty and Just Grace are girls with a lot of imagination. In their adventures / daily lives they discover that sometimes, solving problems just takes a little imagination. While your books are way too much fun (and far to clever) to be messagey, I think that this is an awesome, empowering message for young readers. What else do you hope kids might learn or take away from these two series?

First off I would always hope that the books are fun to read –a flashlight under the covers kind of experience. Not because you’re embarrassed to be caught with them, but hopefully because you can’t put them down and Mom said to turn the lights out. There, now that we have that covered (bad pun on purpose here), I guess the thing that I think these two series have in common is a confident main character with a strong sense of compassion. Sort of a, “Life’s not easy, but some creative problem solving and an optimistic attitude just might get us through” kind of vibe. And then wrapping the whole empathetic can-do sandwich together a sense that being different is not such a bad thing, and that maybe, just maybe it’s even desirable.

One of the aspects of the Just Grace books that most impresses me is the way that you’ve captured so perfectly the interests, perspectives, challenges and voice of that age group. I feel like you must spend time spying on eight-year olds or hanging out in classrooms so that you can get everything to be so convincing. What are your secrets? How do you create such believable kids?

Well I happen to have a child spy living right in my house at this very minute. My daughter is eight and she has definitely been a big inspiration for the character of Grace. I started the books when she was five, but since then watching and listening to her has given me quite a few new story ideas. I don’t take direct dictation, but having her around definitely helps me get back into that eight-year old mindset. She’s like the diary I never kept. Of course we are both different and our experiences are not the same, but having her in my world helps me jump into that time capsule to visit my past. Things like remembering the monkey bars – the swinging and that great happy feeling of getting to the end without falling, and even though your hands were stinging like crazy you’d just shake them off and turn around and do it all over again.

Fashion Kitty and Grace are blessed with unusual super powers (extreme fashion sense and amazing empathy power). What is your secret super power (but not secret for very much longer)?

Hmm. I don’t know if I have a superpower. Doesn’t a superpower have to be instantly available the second you need it? I don’t think I have that kind of instant action ability, but if I could maybe have an hour or two to get it together, then I think my power might be creative optimism. Not always available in the thick of things, but when the fog clears hopefully my costume’s on and I’m moving forward. One hand pointing the way and the other holding a nice hot cup of coffee (that’s my spinach.)

On your website, you mention that you like to have lots of silly things around you when you’re working. What are your Top 5 Silly Things?

Top five favorite silly things:

1) Little person my daughter made for me out of a stick of gum. So far I haven’t eaten her (the gum not my daughter).

Continue reading

Nonfiction Monday: 3-D ABC A Sculptural Alphabet

I cannot resist a great art book, and Bob Raczka’s 3-D ABC: A Sculptural Alphabet is certainly great. The book is an ABC book, and for every letter of the alphabet there’s a photograph of a groovy sculpture inspired by or connected to that letter. The photography really pops, the text is simple and reads well aloud, and you can tell that the sculptures were selected for real “wow” factor for readers. (Just check out that cover image: Spoonbridge and Cherry. Cool). It shouldn’t be any surprise that Raczka has come up with a winner here, as he is the mastermind behind other great art books for kids such as No One Saw: Ordinary things through the eyes of an Artist (a brilliant book for all art teachers), Art is, and Unlikely Pairs. I want them all!

I really like the fact that Raczka focuses on how everyone experiences sculptures (and by extension, art) differently. It’s a personal experience that should be enchanting and inspiring. He writes: “A sculpture can mean different things to different people, or it can mean different things to the same person on different days.”

This one is made for teachers, and for any art-loving family. Just the book to inspire closer attention to the beauty of sculptures in galleries and outdoor spaces.

Art book Addict

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I am kids’ book crazy. Within this larger addiction, one particular love of mine is art books – books about artists, art theft, making art, teaching art. I love them all.

For any art book afficiando, Joyce Raimondo’s series of books that focuses on different artistic schools/periods is impossible to resist. These books form a tidy little collection full of gems for teachers (and parents) who want to give kids an accessible and fun entry point to some of art’s biggest thinkers. Voila:

imaginethat-340-makeitpopcover.jpg   imaginethat-340-expresscover.jpg  imaginethat-340-imaginecover.jpg

I’ve tried a bunch of Raimondo’s lessons and they are kid friendly and inspiring. Most recently, I modified an idea from the Surrealism book and my students created Surreal rooms. It became clear pretty fast that 9 year olds “get” surrealism because many of them already see the crazy in the world around them without having to look for it.

Visit Joyce Raimondo‘s website and the MoMa’s Art Safari site (Raimondo’s project), for more to inspire.  Raimondo’s books are published by Watson-Guptill.