I may have said only 700 times at my blog that I love to keep an eye on international picture books and what authors and illustrators overseas are doing. Thank goodness for the smaller presses, who bring us such imports—Enchanted Lion Books, Kane Miller, NorthSouth Books, Lemniscaat and Chronicle Books, to name only a handful.
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on the Society of Illustrators' 2011 art awards.
Here in the States, Lerner Publishing distributes titles from Gecko Press, a New Zealand-based publisher of English versions of award-winning international children's books. At its site, Gecko says that it publishes approximately 12 “curiously good children's books from around the world” every year.
One of Gecko’s newest titles, originally published as Anton kann zaubern in Germany in 2006, is one of the funniest picture books I’ve seen all year. The first American edition, released this year, was translated by Catherine Chidgey and is called Anton Can Do Magic. Written and illustrated by Ole Könnecke, it is the story of a little boy who believes that his hat is actually magic.
“Here comes Anton. Anton has a magic hat. A real one,” the book opens. Anton is hankering to make something disappear. He sets his sights on a tree and “does some magic.” Mind you, this entails him pushing his turban-like magic hat down over his eyes and throwing his arms out to wiggle his fingers squarely at the object he’d like to obliterate, which is just funny. Not surprisingly, the tree doesn’t budge, so Anton determines that it’s probably too big.
Doing the same to a small bird he sees in a tree, he pushes his hat up to see the bird has actually disappeared. “The bird is gone. Anton can do magic!” He runs from the tree with a huge smile on his face to shout to his friends about his mad magic skills.
Of course, we see that the bird simply flew away while Anton’s eyes were covered, but herein lies one of the book’s greatest joys for the youngest of readers: They love to be in on the secret, to know more than the protagonist. In fact, after he shoves his hat down once again over his eyes and tells his skeptical friend Luke that he can make him disappear, too, Luke also simply steps away. “Anton has made Luke disappear!” Insert slapping of the forehead here on the part of many laughing child readers, who will want to let Anton in on the secret, especially after he realizes with horror, “Luke shouldn’t disappear.”
This is funny stuff. I’ve described it as funny three times already, but it just is. It’ll have preschoolers and early elementary grade students howling in laughter.
An added extra bonus? The text is simple and spare, and these are short, easy-to-read sentences, perfect for your beginning readers. The illustrations, which are laid out on a warm, primarily orange and russet palette, are also crisp, clean and uncluttered, with characters slightly reminiscent of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts characters.
Though readers spend a fair amount of time getting great amusement out of Anton’s cluelessness, in the end he turns the tables on his friends and “does some magic” that impresses them after all. With child readers in on that secret as well, the book is a treat for kids from beginning to end, whether as a read-aloud or a beginning reader.
Clearly, Könnecke can do some magic as well.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.