Monthly Archives: July 2007

Fireman Small Beats All

Alison Morris - July 10, 2007

I skipped town last Thursday and headed off to Missouri, so that Gareth and I could pay a long-overdue visit to my best friend, her husband, and their two year-old son (Silas). The down side of taking off when I did is that I missed meeting two reportedly delightful authors, who did events at our store on Thursday and Friday. (Stay tuned for my events post later this week.) The up side is that I got to spend a few low-key days with some of my favorite people and I can now recite Wong Herbert Yee‘s Fireman Small: Fire Down Below! from memory.

In recent months Silas has adopted a firefighting alter-ego who goes by "Captain Jack," a name Silas appears to have pulled from the pages of At the Firehouse by Anne Rockwell. On our Saturday trip to the wonderful Columbia Public Library I decided I it was high time I introduced Silas (and Captain Jack) to a fellow firefighting little guy, Fireman Small. Alas, the library did not have the Yee’s original book (simply titled Fireman Small) but no matter — Fireman Small: Fire Down Below! was an immediate hit. And a repeat hit. And a repeat hit. And a repeat hit. By the time we departed Monday morning, I think that book might have gone platinum on the Silas chart.

I’d thought I might be able to observe what types of books Silas did and didn’t like and make some profound statement based on these observations, but the fact is that Silas liked every picture book we put in front of him — even the ones that seemed either "beneath" or "beyond" his (two) years. What does this mean? 1.) That Silas is already a genuine book lover, and 2.) That illustrations speak volumes even to those with very limited vocabularies.

As evidence, see Silas grinning as Gareth reads him Baby Loves Peekaboo (a DK board book), then see the two of them surrounded by books we brought back from the library and read in rapid succession. What books appear in the second photo? I’ll list them below.

On the couch:
Waiting for Gregory by Kimberly Willis Holt, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Silas is expecting a new cousin, so I thought this beautiful book (about a girl wondering when and how her own cousin will arrive) would be a fitting choice.

Red, Red, Red by Valeri Gorbachev
A fun story about a turtle rushing (in relative turtle terms) to see something red. As friends fall in line behind him, they wonder what it could be, until they reach the end of their journey just in time to catch the sunset.

Beside Silas:
New York’s Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
The subtext and timing of this story are tied to 9/11, making it a rather somber one for older readers. To Silas, though, it was just a cool firefighting story.

Bebop Express by H.L. Panahi, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Elizabeth (Silas’s mom) picked this one, because Silas loves anything having to do with music. She had no idea she was choosing a jazzy book by a Wellesley author!  H.L. Panahi is a teacher at the Dana Hall School, alma mater of Margaret Wise Brown and Cynthia Voigt, to name two.

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
Okay, so maybe the concept of relative size is over the head of any two-year-old. Steve Jenkins’s remarkable cut-paper illustrations can’t help but impress, nevertheless.

Beside Gareth:
Hello, Fire Truck by Marjorie Blain Parker, illustrated by Bob Kolar
Short and sweet with fire trucks aplenty, this Level 1 Scholastic Reader contains just enough text (and just enough trucks) to please a toddler.

Fireman Small: Fire Down Below! by Wong Herbert Yee
Leaks in the fire station roof force Fireman Small to seek shelter at the Pink Hotel, where his night is anything but restful. An action-packed fire-fighting adventure with a smaller-than-average hero, this book is pretty much a two year-old’s dream come true. (Just ask Silas.)

Illustrators at Work on the Web

Alison Morris - July 6, 2007

One of my favorite benefits of the book industry’s presence in the online world is the fact that so many of us now have a little window into the process of illustrating a book. With the advent of blogs and the accessibility of web tools, an increasing number of illustrators are offering their fans occasional sneak peeks at the books they’re currently working on, pages from their sketchbooks, examples of the "non-book" work they do, or proof that they’re able to work in more styles than we might otherwise have imagined.

I was reminded of the great benefits of this phenomenon when Matt Tavares sent out a message last week, announcing that his blog now includes illustrations-in-progress for Lady Liberty: A Biography, written by Doreen Rappaport, to be published by Candlewick in May 2008. The illustration Matt shows evolving step-by-step over the course of four days is a such a beautiful one that it leads me to believe this book could well prove to feature his best, most mature work to date. Of course, it’s hard to tell from one illustration, but… if Matt posts a few more blog entries of this sort perhaps we’ll know for sure! In either case his addition of these posts to his blog certainly has me eagerly awaiting the publication of this book.

Matt is, of course, following the example set by other illustrators on their blogs and web sites. Here are just a few of the many folks now doing what he’s doing. Feel free to fill my comments with the names of more!

Alissa Imre Geis is currently working on her snowflake for Roberts Snow 2007 and you can watch her collage process unfold on her blog.

Kelly Murphy is working on a book that features dragons apparently. Back in April she showed the steps of her painting process.

Matt Phelan has a sketch blog that consists mostly of (you guessed it) his sketches.  So does Mo Willems. And check out Oliver Jeffers’ sketchbook.

Did you know that the fabulous Polly Dunbar does puppet shows? Can you guess Scott Magoon’s favorite picture books?

For a steady fix of interesting, eclectic illustrations, try Drawn, "a collaborative weblog for illustrators, artists, cartoonists, and anyone who likes to draw." It’s updated daily (often more than daily) and offers plenty of eye candy and oddities.

Hordeing our History

Alison Morris - July 5, 2007

In honor of the links between yesterday’s Fourth-related festivities and U.S. history, I thought I’d mention a handful of places that are helping to preserve the history of children’s literature.

A few years ago we held a meeting of the New England Independent Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council at the University of Connecticut’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center where the curators allowed us to handle some of the materials housed in the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I was allowed to leaf through the sketchbooks of James Marshall and drawings by Barbara Cooney.

This year our group paid a visit to the Rare Books Department of the Boston Public Library, whose Juvenile Collection houses some gems. I fell in love with M. Boutet de Monvel’s illustrations for his children’s book Jeanne d’Arc and was surprised to learn that the BPL is the repository of the world’s largest Joan of Arc collection. (Quelle surprise!) It’s also home to the Paul and Ethel J. Heins Collection, which "contains 4,500 children’s books used by the former Horn Book Magazine editors in their work as critics, teachers, and reviewers of children’s literature."

Worcester, just a short drive west of Boston, is home to the American Antiquarian Society, which is not only in possession of an impressive collection of American children’s books, but also houses a collection of book salesman’s samples, a searchable directory of 19th Century publishers, catalogs from booksellers and book auctioneers "which include examples from the beginnings of the American wholesale and retail book trades," library catalogs, bookplates and booksellers’ labels and more.

While I don’t often find myself in Southern Mississippi, someday I’d like to travel there long enough to visit the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, which is renowned for its collection of 100,000 children’s books (the oldest of which dates back to 1530) and original illustrations and manuscripts from more than 1,200 authors and illustrators. It’d be nice to spend an hour or two looking through the Ezra Jack Keats Archive, studying things like the typescript for The Snowy Day.

Thanks to the Library of Congress, though, none of us has to leave the comforts of home to view the contents of a classic illustrated children’s book. Some of the books in the LOC’s Rare Book and Special Collections division have been digitized, so you can actually view them page-by-page from the chair you’re sitting in at this very moment, without having to relocate said chair to Washington, D.C. If you’ve got time to look through just one, I recommend peeking at the wonderful illusrations in The Baby’s Own Aesop: Being the Fables Condensed in Rhyme, With Portable Morals Pictorially Pointed by Walter Crane.

Want more suggestions? Mapping out your travel route? Take a look at the "Special Collections in Children’s Literature Wikiography" from ALSC.