Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category
Artist Konatsu brushes upon both the past and present of Japanese art. Creatures rendered in marshmallowly forms prance around in folkloric landscapes of spidery trees and peep outside of thatched houses. Each print is brought to life against a backdrop of scroll-esque delicacy.
I discovered Konatsu’s work at a mind-spinning store in Shinjuku called Pop Space (be forewarned-it’s not the easiest site to navigate). I happily picked up several postcards of her art from amongst a twirling rack of design cacophony. Pop Space also has a large scale mural done by Konatsu which depicts dinosaur disguised creatures that seemed to be plucked from prehistoric times and curiously lost in an Edo period of cuteness.
The art of French illustrator Rebecca Dautremer is like stepping through paper windows into miniature, rouge accented worlds of wonder. Dautremer has a legacy as an illustrator with a soft spot for fairytales touched by a sense of humor. She has worked on such children’s book titles as The Secret Lives of Princesses and collaborated with her husband, author Taï-Marc Le Thanh, on an adaptation of the notorious child-napping ogress of Slavic-lore, Babayaga. Dautremer has recently brought her design talents and also her love of folklore to life in the animated salute to storytelling entitled Kerity: La Maison des Contes (the English title is Eleanor’s Secret). Kerity, directed by Dominique Monféry, is about a young boy named Nathaniel who inherits his aunt’s library and the real life stories contained within the books. The caveat to this imaginative inheritance is Nathaniel’s illiteracy which is relentlessly mocked by his bratty sister and the impending collapse of his aunt’s dilapidated house. Despite Rebecca Dautremer’s renown, I sadly found very little mention of her in the U.S. aside from the incongruously English dubbed version of Kerity (the sister sounds like a digitized Brit and the parents seemed stocked with awkward dialogue). Thank you Noela for your introduction!
The inventive Ms. Periwinkle Smith has returned in her second and latest adventure, Periwinkle Smith and the Faraway Star by John and Wendy. Still twirling and whirling in her trademark tutu, the punky and pirouetting Ms. Periwinkle sets her sights on a golden telescope. Through her looking glass, Periwinkle spies birds, fish and even villainous bathtub pirates yet it’s a lonely star in the sky that captures Periwinkle’s eye and inevitably, her heart. Determined to befriend the lonely star, Periwinkle dreams up different ways to send her message “up, up, up”. After a few inspired efforts, Periwinkle and her trusty tabby find an enlightened form of delivery that brings the faraway star close to home.
Periwinkle Smith is a strong and spirited girl distinguished by her signature bow, blue hair and paint-splattered tutu. Ms. Smith is equal parts childhood curiosity and rock n’ roll DIY-namics. John and Wendy have created a diminutively cute character with a large presence that continues to demonstrate infectious enthusiasm and ingenuity. Always armed with a solution up her stripey sleeve, Ms. Smith proves that no adventure or dream is too big. I’m convinced that her adventures have only just begun. So, where to next, Periwinkle?
There have been many campaigns to save extinct animals but none of them have been as effectively cute as the craftsmanship of Josh Finkle. Josh carves wide-eyed creatures on the brink of extinction out of another life form at the dangerous risk of disappearing-trees. The threat for each of the wooden species is outlined in a how-to diagram of icons and arrows depicting both their origins and their demise.
Chores by their very definition defy fun but as a kid, surrounded by miniature eye candy, it was eye-level adventure. Growing up, I was assigned the duty of dusting which gave me the chance to stare abymssmally into my Mom’s collection of Asian artifacts-tiny cabinets full of cork-art scenes of musing fisherman and ornate, crooked trees. Artist Emma van Leest creates the same tiny worlds of incredible intricacy with her paper sculptures.
If Jacque Cousteau saw the world through blinking pupils of adorable optimism and tottered around in a rolly-polly plush toy scuba suit, he might be a possible recruit for the Octonauts. The Octonauts are an underwater team of animal explorers (crew members include Captain Barnacles and Professor Inkling) created by the dollhouse architects of delight, Meomi. From their octopod, the Octonauts encounter a lonely monster, a shadow stealer, a frown fish and in their most recent adventure, a ghost reef. The aquatic adventures continue in CG splendor as a recently announced TV animated series.
The Octonauts and the Great Ghost Reef
$15.95 US, Hardcover
11 X 8 inches, 36 Pages
Robox is more than meets the eye; a cardboard box contortionist that transforms into a four-limbed automaton with a window view of his bottomless tummy (which doubles as a convenient book package display). Robox emerges as the gastro-con solution to Renny’s slew of problems; a stalking feline, lugheaded bullies, tentacle veggies and of course, the perpetual plague of homework. Robox gobbles up all of Renny’s troubles in one metallic chomp until his hunger starts to consume the good along with the bad. Author and artist, Mark Rogalski, details Renny’s odyssey and Robox’s dietary oddities in fantastic 3-D detail inviting “I-spy” study of each graphic page. Multimedia touches such as vintage baseball cards, hand-drawn sketches and charts contribute to the hyperrealism of Renny’s world and this tale of “action, adventure and appetite”.
By far, Robox, is one of the most inventive and innovative children’s books that makes reading fun and functional. I immediately made my free-standing Robox which now stands on my shelf, displaying his impish Short Circuit cyborg cuteness. I’m convinced that when he isn’t digesting the worries of the universe, he is dreaming of Martian landscapes and rocketing across blue skies (photo: Optivion; Design: Corvus Blue Studio).
Rogalski’s custom signature of lush landscapes and interactive imagination also unfolds in Dream Machines; a World’s Fair wonder of fantastic vehicles from the Bubble Sub to the Steam Train Aeroplane. True to his packaging prowess, Rogalski also includes a dust jacket cover that doubles as a fold-out board game. Singsong clues ring throughout the book (“the star you seek is in the sky, get back on track and roll the die”) that advance both the dazzling story and spellbound player across a boardgame of contraptions and creatures.
Robox and Dream Machines are both published by Running Press.
There’s a whole lot of hoopla when hens Marge and Lola find a poster announcing The Final Doodle Doo and its grand prize to see none other than the cuck-a-doodle dooing crooner, Elvis Poultry, in Chicken Dance. Eager to win, the ladies search for a sure-fire talent that they can perform in spite of the boastful crowing from their barnyard rivals, the ducks. Marge and Lola finally take to the stage and strut their stuff striking iconic dance moves; winged interpretations of Madonna’s “Vogue”, “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Staying Alive” stun the crowd but ultimately catch the King of “Bawk and Roll’s” coveted attention. Author Tammi Sauer humorously captures the fierce competition with fowl-humored jabs (“Get some floaties, chickens”) and throw back references to the DooWop pop phenomenon that ruffled the feathers of the ’60’s. Dan Santat adds to the retro romp with mixed media illustrations framed in nostalgic browns and oranges complete with a star-studded cover that pays homage to the King. Chicken Dance even includes chicken-scratch dance step variations on the inside cover for the footloose and fearless. Forget the embarrassing elbow flap stomp that strikes wedding receptions worldwide-Chicken Dance takes this classic shimmy out of the stuffy dance hall and puts it into the barnyard for an original and inspirationally funny read.
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 36 pages
The Seeing Stick begins and ends as harmoniously as the namesake of its main character, Hwei Ming, which means “the lightless moon on the last day of the month [that] becomes luminous”. Author Jane Yolen thoughtfully interprets this Chinese legend about a blind empress and her father’s solemn search to give her the gift of sight. Citizens far and wide gather at the fortress gates in response to the emperor’s reward to cure his daughter’s blight; monks come with their prayer wheels, magician-priests with their spells and physicians with their potions. True to legendary lore, a sightless old man with a golden seeing stick harkens the call and sets off towards the fortress, where he mystifies the surly guards and ultimately, opens the empress’s “eyes on the tips of her fingers”. Yolen’s free-flowing narrative comes to life through the Asian-inspired watercolors of illustrator, Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini. Each illustrated page resembles Chinese scrolls of wispy, calligraphic nature paintings. The images are also covered in a textural and reflective material creating a sort of illustrative braille which cleverly compliments the legend of the seeing stick. The Seeing Stick feels timeless and engages all of the senses in a tale that truly understands that life is more than meets the eye.
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 34 pages
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Ottoline and the Yellow Cat follows the hard-boiled hijinks of a femme fatale feline and her pup posse of former lapdogs. Author and illustrator, Chris Riddell introduces the charming heroine Ottoline and her morose companion, Mr. Munroe (the Norwegian counterpart to Cousin Itt) as the dedicated detectives on the case of the canine crime ring. Ottoline is left in the care of Mr. Munroe and a team of unusual housekeepers (i.e. the goggled-eye 1,000 Strong Light-Bulb men) while her parents jettison off to exotic locales detailed in their postcards penned with little, parental notes. It is during one of their absences that Ottoline notices the missing dog posters around her neighborhood and reads the articles about the society women distraught over their disappearance. The sudden mystery prompts Ottoline and Mr. Munroe to don Inspector Clouseau-esque disguises in search of the stolen pooches. Ottoline and the Yellow Cat is a fun who-dunnit personalized by Riddell’s frequent hand-scrawled notes about the artifacts in Ottoline’s apartment (a parrot clock) or encourages you to read another postcard from Ottoline’s parents (Greetings from the SS Trondheim). Riddell’s use of black and white graphics with splashes of red add to the story’s playful film-noir narrative and accent Ottoline’s charming characteristics-like Ottoline’s mismatched shoes and Zsa Zsa Gabor garb. Ottoline and the Yellow Cat is a story that is equal parts sleuth and scrapbook turning up a wonderfully clever tale.
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: MacMillan UK