Saturday, August 15, 2009

And now, for something completely different (Grown ups!)

As anyone who attended our Halloween costume party last year can attest, the staff here loves all kinds of modern and classic picture books: characters as diverse as Fancy Nancy and Eloise to Christopher Robin and Viola Swamp were represented, and our staff picks range from Jon Scieszka and Ruth Krauss to Wanda Gag and Anna Dewdney. While no one here is debating the deserved popularity of such authors, there are times when we, as readers and general lovers of the picture book as a medium itself, want something a little...different. Something beyond the typical 3 to 7 age category or the princess/truck/new baby/animal story genre. In short, we want a picture book - big, colorful, with a great story - for grown-ups.

If you've ever had a similar feeling, here we've collected some of our newest and favorite "picture" books that appeal as much to grown-ups as kids.

My first pick takes the cake for most fun title: Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types, created by graphic designers Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. This imaginative book goes beyond the ABCs: each spread features an alliterative animal made up of various styles and sizes of its letter. Along with these creative pictures and flaps, each letter showcases its permutations of fonts with whimsical interpretations along the lines of "this 'a' wears a hood". Like the wordless picture feast Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu, Alphabeasties is a great gift for preschoolers and designers alike.

Another design giant, Andrew Zuckerman, gives us his take on an alphabet book with Creature ABC. Each letter gets double treatment with capital and lowercase pages with the sumptuous creature photographs so detailed they could be textured. For the committed animal (or art) lover, pair this picture book with Zuckerman's Creature Floor Puzzles, or for the preschool biologist try Discovering Nature's Alphabet by Krystina Castella.

For the reader who likes their creatures more fantastic and dangerous than even alligators and vultures, Bobbi Katz and illustrator Adam McCauley give us Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme. In the popular "scrapbook" style of Candlewick's Ologies and the Flower Fairies books, this entertaining guide to magical and mythological beings is packed with letters, interviews and dire warnings in verse. (This book's arrival has led to an array of jests on my behalf on how I should finally be able to tell Godzilla and King Kong apart).

There's no flight of fantasy, no homage to the power of story-telling quite like Bambert's Book of Missing Stories by Reinhardt Jung, translated by Anthea Bell, and illustrated by the prolific Emma Chichester Clark. Lonely protagonist Bambert sends his stories out into the world tied to hot air balloons to discover their true setting and characters. The stories that return are as beautiful and poignant as Bambert and his neighbor's blossoming friendship. This book, though dissimilar in tone, is comparable to Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia: not quite chapter book, not quite graphic novel, but definitely not to be missed.

Another foreign import of note is Collector of Moments by German author and illustrator Quint Buchholz (sound familiar? You may know him from his prints), translated by Peter Neumeyer. A young boy befriends the mysterious artist upstairs - but is never allowed to see his pictures until the artist moves away. The paintings, rendered as full or double page spreads, take the boy on imaginative journeys that turn the familiar into the surreal: in one particular picture, morning comes to a house by the sea with a package, as big as the house itself, on its front lawn. This book is actually out of print, so come for our last copy while you can!

Add ImageContinuing in the vein of Eastern European authors, we can't neglect Peter Sís. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain is a moving, intricate graphic memoir of his childhood and adolescence in Cold War Czechoslovakia. The Wall combines story panels illustrated in stark black, white, and red, journal entries, and the narrator's own dreams and drawings. A gorgeous double page explosion of color depicting the Beatles and other pop icons marks the narrator is disillusionmentwith the Soviet regime and discovery of cultures from the other side of the wall. After many acclaimed picture books and biographies, The Wall is Sís's most personal and inspiring work yet. For more graphic autobiography, also try Marjane Satrapi's Complete Persepolis.

I've saved this last choice for the end because it made its own niche in the book world - if you haven't read this Caldecott winner yet, you need to! The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is the story of Hugo, an orphan boy living in the walls of a Paris train station winding the clocks. As he searches for the last pieces to complete the automaton his father was working on before his death, Hugo is drawn into more mysteries than he bargained for. The plot unfolds beautifully, but even more magical is the book's cinematic style: red endpapers like theatre curtains, pages of text alternating with pages of full page detailed pencil illustrations that carry the story as much as the words do. Lovers of art, film, and plain good stories will enjoy multiple readings of this soon-to-be classic.

1 comment:

Julia Denos said...

I love this post. I have always stood by the conviction that picture books are for people. All people. An ageless medium if it's done right.

Great choices!!