Books by Leslie Baker

THE ANIMAL ABC by Leslie Baker
Released: May 1, 2003

An alphabet of rare simplicity. Baker places an upper- and lower-case letter at the top of each page, a one-word label at the bottom, and in between, a frame-filling animal portrait painted in broadly brushed watercolors, generally against monochromatic, unobtrusive backgrounds. With the exception of the "Uakari," the chosen creatures are the usual suspects, Ant to Zebra; Baker portrays many of them smiling, but in natural poses, and, for the most part (it is hard to tell with the Spider) making eye contact with viewers. Hovering caregivers may need to chip in occasional pronunciation help, and be ready to answer questions about the animals, but this offers young children still polishing their letter recognition skills a fresh—and, with its smaller trim size, easier to handle—alternative to such standards as C.B. Falls's ABC Book (1923) or Flora McDonnell's ABC (1997). (Picture book. 3-5)Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2000

As a companion to Dogs of Myth (1999), illustrated by Barry Moser, the Hausmans offer nine (naturally) tales of puissant pussies, each depicted in luminous watercolors by a premier illustrator of cats. Divided by type—Creation, Trickster, Goddess, Monster, etc.—the stories come from a variety of cultures. They are freely retold with a fine sense of humor and an often clever turn of phrase. Until, troll-turned-kitty, Sweet Butter tricks him into abdicating, the troll king "Rumble Grumble was bad news." Or in a Japanese tale: a canny old temple cat overcomes a "ninja rat." And loosely based on an actual incident, an invading army bloodlessly captures the city of Tisseh (Pelusium) by marching up to the gates holding cats rather than swords. The authors add discussions of themes and breeds to each tale, and close the collection with source notes. Except for the all-devouring Whittle Cat, the felines here are beneficent, if self-interested, so readers who feel that cats have gotten a bad rap in folklore will purr over this engaging gathering. (Folktales. 7-10)Read full book review >
PARIS CAT by Leslie Baker
Released: April 1, 1999

Soft, splashy watercolors with that medium's traditional luminosity limn the streets, markets, parks, and boulevards of Paris, as a calico cat, Alice, searches for her owner, Annie, who is visiting a great-aunt, Isabella. Alice sees a mouse in Great-Auntie Isabella's garden on the first day of her first trip to Paris, and races after it; soon, she is lost in the city. Alice strolls the market, loses a stray fish to a tomcat, is chased by one of the city's innumerable dogs and lands on a bateau-mouche when she falls off a bridge (a wordless spread of the fall is realistically and kinetically rendered). Tired, Alice at last falls asleep in a bed of tulips, to be found by Annie and her aunt. The Louvre and Notre Dame form a pleasant backdrop to Baker's close observations of feline behavior. Annie, in her navy knee socks and beret, is just as appealing as her troublesome pet. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1998

Wood (The Windigo's Return, 1996) retells a Cree legend that explains not only why there's a rabbit in the moon, but how the whooping crane came to have long legs and a red blaze on his head. After repeated efforts to reach the moon on his own, Rabbit asks the birds to carry him. All but Crane laugh him off. The two set out, and reach their goal only after a long and terrifying flight, with Rabbit hanging on to Crane's legs so tightly that his paws become bloody (even as he stretches the bird's legs). In gratitude, Rabbit stains Crane's crown with blood—visible to this day. Though Wood pays homage to Rabbit as a trickster in the source note, there's no mischief in the story and Rabbit is portrayed as polite and unassuming. Baker's watercolors are another disappointment; Rabbit's limbs change length and proportions unpredictably, so that sometimes his shape is that of a natural-looking rabbit, and other times that of a human child in a fur suit. (Picture book/folklore. 7-9) Read full book review >
OUR OLD HOUSE by Susan Vizurraga
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

In Vizurraga's debut, an old Victorian house gives up its secrets slowly, and glimpses from the past are signposts amidst the tangle of renovation and remodeling in the rooms and yard where a young girl imagines former inhabitants. Wallpaper layers, the color of roses, and a name scratched low on the kitchen door are clues to the life of a child who once jumped rope, played marbles, and kept a garden within the same walls, the same yard as the narrator. But adult sentiments fill her dreamy reminiscences; her ramblings turn to questions she asks of a white-haired woman who appears ``standing on that loose front porch step, looking up at our old house,'' a woman who lived there, once upon a time. Baker wets her watercolor palette with the new green of spring in the grass surrounding the house and the soft stenciling on the walls. Porch swings and kittens provide the sleepy background for each sentimental moment. It's a quiet reverie—perhaps too quiet for most children—and it's certainly pretty to look at. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Hermes (On Winter's Wind, 1995, etc.), in her first picture book effort, pens a sweet and sentimental tale that glows with Baker's radiant watercolors. Hallie walks with her father in the moonlight when spring is so close that she ``could feel its breath in her hair.'' They catch glimpses of wildlife, and Hallie tells him her wishes, but keeps one wish to herself. Papa becomes ill that fall, and Hallie's Aunt Belle, a quilter, comes to care for him: Christmas holds no wishes that year. But when spring and Hallie's March birthday come around, the doll she had secretly longed for appears on her bed, wrapped in one of Aunt Belle's quilts. And Papa is well enough to walk a bit that evening. Baker fills the pages with luminous shades of lavender, periwinkle, and silver grey: People, animals, household items, and landscape are rendered with a full and lively line. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
HONKERS by Jane Yolen
by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Leslie Baker
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

With Mama in bed waiting for the new baby, Betsy is sent to her grandparents. She's old enough to remind Grandy not to call her "Little Bit"; still, she takes her silky blanket. In Grandy's barn are three wild-goose eggs. Waiting for them to hatch (how a blanket keeps them warm is not explained) helps pass the time while the pile of letters from Mama mounts; once the eggs do hatch, Betsy shares her beloved silky with the goslings. At summer's end, Mama's letters fill two boxes; the geese (in a poignant parting) fly south; and Betsy sets out to meet the new baby—without the silky. Gracefully, Yolen interweaves carefully selected details to depict a well-loved child maturing during a necessary separation. Setting the story perhaps a hundred years ago, Baker focuses on its warm emotional content, placing her expressive figures in barely suggested impressionistic scenes rendered in misty browns and grays. A lovely, beautifully crafted book. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1991

In a gracefully cadenced text with telling echoes of ideas and images, an apparently autobiographical story: when Jane is four, she and her family see Daddy off on a crowded troopship to WW II; only Mama cries. Soon after, on a forbidden trip to wade in the nearby Chesapeake, Jane's five-year-old cousin Michael demonstrates that the small-looking ships they see are actually big, like Daddy's—Michael moves away while Jane compares his size to her own hand. Two years later, Daddy comes home. "Everyone cried, except Mama," and Janie tells him why she seems bigger: ". . .you were so far away, Daddy. When you are far away, everything is smaller. But now you are here, so I am big." In her best work to date, Baker's watercolors capture the nuances of affection, loss, puzzlement, and jubilation in her characters' expressions and stance, echoing the sorrow of war's partings in the dramatic dark areas of her careful compositions, nicely contrasted with summer's blues and greens. A poignant, beautifully wrought book. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >