Tag Archives: Illustration

An adorable new duo: Rabbit & Robot

It makes me happy whenever I think about how there were so many brilliant books that I discovered for the first time when I worked at The Flying Dragon Bookshop. Goodnight Mr. Tom, Millions and Framed, How I Live Now, Clementine, Bark George… I could fill a post with only the titles. I love that if I close my eyes, I can picture where those books lived in the store and remember going over to the shelves to pull out just the right one to share with a customer. I hope I am able to conjure the store in my mind for my whole life.

The reason I mention this, is that I was thinking about the store today as I was remembering one of my favourite “Flying Dragon Finds”: Cynthia Rylant’s Mr. Putter and Tabby series. Talk about perfect early readers. What makes a perfect early reader? For me, it’s memorable characters, gentle humour, dynamite illustrations that enrich the narrative world beyond the words, and text that manages to still be cleverly crafted and lovely to read even though there aren’t as many words on the page. Cece Bell’s new reader, Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover has all of these qualities, which means I’ve got my fingers crossed that there will be more installments featuring these two quirky buddies.

When Robot comes over to Rabbit’s place for a sleepover, Rabbit has a To Do List prepared for his visit:

1.Make Pizza
2.Watch TV
3.Play Go Fish
4.Go to bed

When Robot suggests shaking things up a little with a game of Old Maid or Crazy Eights, Rabbit is not into it. He is determined that they will stick to the list. When Robot doesn’t want to have the kind of pizza Rabbit planned, Rabbit freaks out. You can see where this is going. The push-pull, give-take of this strange friendship makes for hilarious scenarios that kids are sure to love. The little book is packed with dialogue, which brings the characters’ contrasting personalities vividly to life. Bell’s bold illustrations capture the warmth at the heart of this wacky little relationship. A sweet tribute to the way that the best friendships can stretch us and bring us new experiences and plenty of laughter along the way, Rabbit & Robot is delightful from beginning to end.

Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover is published by Candlewick.


Day 11, book 11: Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

Today in the library, one of my favourite colleagues experienced Olivia for the first time. He’s a few years from retirement but obviously that’s no reason not to pick up a picture book and start reading during grade 6 book exchange. He found Olivia goes to Venice and a few minutes later, he was laughing out loud. Earlier in the day, I’d read the original Olivia to a group of five-year-olds. Same reaction. That’s one of the things I love most about Ian Falconer’s beloved character. She appeals to kids and grown ups alike. While some of the jokes in the newest Olivia offering are likely to go over kids’ heads, I’d say that there’s still plenty to entertain everyone in Olivia and the Fairy Princesses.

Don’t let that pretty pink cover fool you, Olivia is not buying into the princess craze. She does not want to be like everybody else. While the other pigs wear fluffy skirts and sparkles and crowns, Olivia makes a statement in matador pants, a sailor shirt, and black flats. She doesn’t understand why it always has to be all about pink princesses. Can’t people get a little creative? Olivia is trying very hard to cultivate a “stark, modern style,” but it seems that it isn’t entirely working for her. Don’t fret, she figures it out, with trademark piggy panache.

As expected, there’s plenty of drama in Falconer’s illustrations. They’re wonderfully stylish and droll. While I never thought I’d utter the words “corporate malfeasance” and “identity crisis” during kindergarten storytime, I’m sure I can make it work, because as always, there’s a little something for everyone whenever Olivia gets up to her usual tricks. Clever, charming, and crowd-pleasing, Olivia always stands out.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses is published by Atheneum.

Day 8, book 8: I Like Old Clothes by Mary Ann Hoberman

Confession: I don’t much like old clothes. I was raised by a woman who passed on to me her undying love of J. Crew catalogs and expensive things. (You’re the best Mom). And so, I was never destined to be a thrift store shopper. As pretty as they might look on etsy, vintage shoes sort of gross me out. In all honesty, sometimes when I try something on in a store and I think about the fact that at least one person has probably tried this very item on before me, I’m not so cool with the idea. It is therefore surprising that after reading I Like Old Clothes by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Patrice Barton, I feel a twinge of inspiration to go hunting for my own pre-loved treasure.

This has to be one of the loveliest little books I’ve read in a while. It has charmed me completely. I am going to stop hugging it now so that I can put it down and look at it properly and tell you all of the things I like about it. First (and foremost), the illustrations are heavenly. I had not come across Patrice Barton’s work until today, and now I plan on ordering all of the picture books that she has ever illustrated for the school library. The illustrations are soft, with a warm and smudgy, almost worn quality to them, which perfectly matches the theme of Hoberman’s poem. Barton uses a variety of textures and patterns on top of and against each other to mimic the appearance of different fabrics, all of them well-loved and a little washed out. Everything blends and goes outside the lines to create a sense of imperfection, but also liveliness and movement. I pretty much want to have one of Patrice’s pictures framed on the wall in my bedroom.

And if the illustrations alone aren’t enough to put you in a smiley kind of mood, Hoberman’s words should do the trick.

“I like old clothes.
I really do.
Clothes with a history,
Clothes with a mystery,
Sweaters and shirts
That are brother-and-sistery…”

The text doesn’t really have a narrative line, and that’s fine. It’s an exploration and pure celebration of the wonders of old stuff. In an age when everyone, including children, covets the new, I’d say there couldn’t be a better time to read this picture book and consider its message. I’ll bet you’ll fall head over heels for the whimsy and sweetness here, just like I did. Maybe there’s room in my closet for some “not-my-own-clothes” after all.

I Like Old Clothes is published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Day 7, book 7: Wishes by Jean Little

When I was a girl, I read everything Jean Little wrote. She was one of my favourite authors. Reading Little by Little one summer was my first Jean Little experience and I still have my childhood copy of her autobiography. So when I had the chance to meet her at an event a few years ago, I was very nearly tongue-tied. She’s an impressive person, and a gifted writer. I think she’s one of the treasures of Canadian Children’s Literature.

Needless to say, I’m always happy when a new Jean Little book comes my way. Wishes is a rhyming picture book about the power within all of us to dream and imagine. Really, it’s a sort of ode to wishes and how the act of wishing can help us to value the good things in our lives, see the world differently, and embrace playfulness.

“If wishes were horses,
then poor folks would ride.
If wishes were friendships,
I’d be by your side.”

This structure continues throughout the text, as Little plays with the saying, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” The text contains many lovely images that satisfy the reader with their bouncy rhythm and creativity.

“If wishes were pancakes,
I’d eat a tall stack.
If wishes were parsnips,
I’d send the plate back.”

Teachers, I’m sure it would be simple and lots of fun for kids to take Little’s poem as a model and write their own Wish poetry. You could even do it as a class and create one Wish poem. You’ll want to add this book to your pile of resources for your poetry units.

Genevieve Cote was certainly the ideal choice to illustrate such a whimsical, lilting text, full of playfulness and light. Her artwork is gentle yet expressive, bringing the dreamy feeling of Little’s words to life.

Wishes is made for reading aloud. I’d say it’s the ideal bedtime story. Shouldn’t every child drift off to sleep thinking about all of the wishes she wants to come true?

Wishes is published by North Winds Press, an imprint of Scholastic Canada.

Viriginia Wolf

A great picture book often leads me to a more intense emotional response than a great novel. I’m sure the illustrations have something to do with it, and the fact that you can take it all in in one sitting. At the same time, a great picture book is only the beginning of my response as a reader. It’s not like I read the last page and close it up and I’m finished. The story and the images slip into my head and change how I think and see the world. Of course, you don’t come across this kind of book every day, but when you do, you recognize it right away. Virginia Wolf, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is one of those rare books.

You have to wonder how Maclear came up with the idea to explore what a moment of Virginia Woolf’s childhood might have looked like in a picture book. If I were an editor, I’d probably have been raising my eyebrows on hearing the concept. It’s an original and unusual idea and it doesn’t sound like it could have much kid appeal, but the result is a story that can be appreciated without the reader having any awareness of the allusions throughout to Woolf’s life. It presents two sisters, Vanessa and Virginia, and what happens when one day, Virginia wakes up “feeling wolfish.” Virginia descends into a dark place, where everything is wrong and nothing seems to help. But it is her sister’s love, perseverance, and creativity that helps Virginia to find her way back to seeing beauty again. I am in love with the trailer. It’s perfect:


Now that is one stylish trailer.

Arsenault’s illustrations are wonderful. The way that they move from being muted and washed out at the beginning, when Vanessa is trying to understand her sister’s state, to almost completely black and white as Virginia becomes more and more wolfish, to the wild burst of colour at the end, shows a perfect understanding of the emotional rhythm of the text. There’s an article on Arsenault in Issue 14 of Uppercase Magazine which I enjoyed reading and you might want to check out.

Virginia Wolf reminds me in its themes and its strangeness, and in its emotional force, of Shaun Tan’s sad but beautifully uplifting picture book, The Red Tree. Like Tan’s book, Virginia Wolf is fantastical and a little unsettling and sad and sweet all at once, which I suppose makes sense since it’s partly an exploration of what depression looks like through a child’s eyes. It’s the sort of reading experience that pulls you away from everything around you. It convinces me that Maclear and Arsenault are a brilliant creative partnership. You finish this book with the feeling that you’ve read something different. Deeply captivating, Virginia Wolf is a unique work of art.

Virginia Wolf is published by Kids Can Press.